Occultism and spiritual practice have always had an alluring appeal and attracted a wide variety of individuals from all walks of life. Generally, seekers of the occult are looking for a deeper meaning and purpose to their existence and often they have a longing for a spiritual teacher. A teacher who will guide them and lead them to a higher plane of existence. In the individual’s pursuit of spiritual or magical ways, they can often, and quite blindly, give up their own will and fall under the influence of a charismatic leader.  It so happens that such a leader appeared on the west coast of Canada, seemingly out of nowhere. A leader called Brother XII.

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Edward Arthur Wilson, aka Brother XII

Born as Edward Arthur Wilson in 1878 in Birmingham England, Brother XII arrived in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, Canada around 1927. He immediately established a great following of wealthy devotees from all over the world. Followers were encouraged to build homes on his colony, Cedar-By-The-Sea, and then eventually Brother XII expanded his colony to the secluded Valdes and De Courcy Islands. It all began quite innocently as a motion to live an independent and self-sufficient existence. However, it would escalate into the disaster that most cults eventually degrade into.

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A Map of Nanaimo, De Courcy Island, and Valdes Island

Wilson saw himself as a reincarnation of the Egyptian god Osiris and he offered followers his special and exclusive teachings in a colony unaffected by the contamination of the modern world. Of course, it was on the conditions of exclusive worship, total devotion, isolation from outsiders and naturally continuous donations of members money. In fact, Brother XII meets every check box on the list of “How To Run A Cult”, which are:

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader.
  • Questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged or even punished
  • Mind-altering practices are used in excess to control and suppress doubts in members.
  • Leader dictates how members should think, act and feel.
  • The group is always elitist, claiming special and exalted status.
  • The group will have a polarized “Us vs Them” mentality.
  • The leader will not be accountable to authorities.
  • The group teaches the idea that the end justifies the means.
  • The leader induces feelings of shame or guilt in order to control the members.
  • Often there is an abundance of sexual abuse and promiscuity carried out by the leader.
  • Subservience to the leader requires members to cut ties with their family and non-members.
  • Members must alter their personal goals radically in order to belong.
  • The group will be preoccupied with making money.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group activities.
  • Members are encouraged to live or socialize with other members.
  • The most loyal members are made to feel there is no life outside the group.
  • There is fear and punishment for leaving.

The followers of Brother XII were not necessarily uneducated individuals, but they were still willing to give up their independence, freedom, and finances to a man who offered them something seemingly so intangible.  So why you ask would anyone buy into the preachings of a cult leader? What is it that they see in these enigmatic individuals that they think will help them in life? Psychology Today notes that cults are made up of “the post-graduate and the illiterate; the teenager and the “senior citizen”; the solidly middle class and those on the fringes of society.” So demographics doesn’t play a key role in the criteria of a cult follower, but rather it is important to look at the trickier aspects of an individual’s psychological needs.

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Followers on one of the islands

In the case of Brother XII, he clearly targeted the fears of his followers and came up with outlandish solutions in the form of worship, devotion, and donation. Wilson also mixed his spiritual influence alongside politics. His followers often donated to his political causes and he was heavily involved in attempting to create a third party option in American politics. Wealthy American socialite Mary Connally was responsible for donating the money that helped him purchase the islands he would use to later isolate his members.  She would be one of many female devotees that he would use in order to create the mania that was The Aquarian Foundation, the religious order created and taught by Brother XII. 

The Aquarian Foundation had over 1250 members worldwide at its peak, but the island colonies began to break apart in 1929 after he was having affairs with many of the females. Undeterred, Brother XII would go on and acquire a female counterpart in the form of a Madame Z.  At this time Wilson had become more paranoid and dictatorial and began to use much harsher means to keep his commune under control. Madame Z, real name Mabel Skottowe, was in charge of recruiting more members, funds and keeping members working endlessly on tasks to prove their spiritual worthiness.

Above images of books about Brother XII, the third image is Wilsons own writings.

One man who was imprisoned in a cellar on one of the islands for quite a time for his disobedience finally managed to escape, row a boat back to Nanaimo and report Wilson to the police. The concept of abusive cults was unknown at the time so the police never followed up on the report and Brother XII continued the cycle of attracting members, requiring payment, isolating them from the world and imposing his abusive teachings.

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A woodcut from The Vancouver Sun depicting Brother XII

It became apparent over time to some members that one could never be quite spiritual enough for Brother XII and as conditions deteriorated further members began to revolt en masse. Followers leave a cult for a variety of reasons. Usually, it is due to the members becoming aware of the leader’s hypocrisy and becoming tired of the relentless rituals, proselytizing and controlled lifestyle.  It was no different in the case of Brother XII, except due to some of his members societal status he wasn’t able to continue on for long. The members were able to get out of the colonies and begin the legal process of suing him to get their monies back.

The result of Brother XII losing control and having the law come down on him was that he had a violent outburst, destroyed the colonies and scuttled his flagship on the island.  Just like most cult leaders, Brother XII would refuse to be held accountable by the local authorities. He fled with Skottowe in their private tugboat along with over half a million dollars in members money (that is the equivalent of $70,183,720.93 in 2017) and never did appear and face charges in court. 

Brother XII was never heard from again as a cult leader, that we are aware of. It is said that he passed away in 1934 in Switzerland, however, the end of an enigmatic cult leader is never so simple. The rumour still abounds that Brother XII faked his death to ensure authorities would never bring him to justice.  In fact, it is said in a testimony from his lawyer’s son, that Wilson met his lawyer in San Francisco quite long after his supposed death. 

If anything, this article isn’t to prove that all individuals who practice magic or take on spiritual journeys are mindless followers. It also isn’t declaring that all teachers are abusive cult leaders either. In the case of Brother XII, the signs were quite apparent and the individuals had an emotional need to belong and feel special in a spiritual way.  The most important message I could pass on from the story of Brother XII is that if you are truly self-sufficient, if you do believe in a spiritual path, then you’ve already got what you need inside yourself to be connected to that power.

The world is a wonderful place and you are connected to it already and no one can give you that, you’re born with it.  Please be sure to be aware of the list I detailed above and if you feel that you are being targeted by a cult or you need to get out of a cult I’ll leave a few links below.

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A nature trail is named after the infamous cult leader.

Links To Cult Recovery Information:

http://www.cultwatch.com/how-to-leave-recover.html

http://www.culthelp.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=52&Itemid=7

Resources & Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_XII

http://www.brotherxii.com/legend.html

http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201402/why-do-people-join-cults

http://www.csj.org/studyindex/studycult/cultqa6.htm

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