“Sect Has Its Roots in Star Trek, Occult”
By Robert J. Gore, Times Staff Writer
LONG BEACH- Morningland greets you with a smile, a pretty face and pleasant pastel surroundings after you get through the front door, which is locked. Morningland is a Long Beach-based religious organization. And visitors to its headquarters receive an explanation of the basic beliefs of the sect, which is founded on astrology, auras, numerology, palm reading, tarot cards, telepathy and the teachings of the founder, whom they call Donato.
The metaphysics are mind-numbing, Morningland’s accountant will focus on some firm figures if prodded. Its net worth is about $400,000 and growing He declined to reveal the annual income. Another number isn’t so firm. Morningstaar, the Long Beach spokeswoman, said they have about 500 worshipers. An official leaflet said 1,000. Both sources said the membership roll, too, is growing fast.
Founded in 1973, the church had a quiet beginning, but controversy has dogged its heels since January. About 400 Morningland worshippers were excommunicated for putting themselves before their religion. A young Escondido woman who had been under a Donato healing treatment succumbed to breast cancer. Then the Escondido City Council ordered a police probe of charges from a citizens group that Morningland was involved in murder, kidnapping, and thievery and mind control. Morningland officials have consistently denied all of the allegations, countering with charges that they are being irrationally persecuted solely for beliefs.
“Morningland is real, alive and exceptional,” said Pathena another Long Beach official of the sect. “There is no other place in the world like us.” Facts about the church, like the membership figure, are vague. Daniel Sperato, known by his family nickname of Donato, founded Morningland in Long Beach, in 1973, according to Morningstaar. Donato “ascended” she said in November 1976, at their Crestline retreat “when his heart stopped beating. He was a visitor. It was his time to go.” When asked what Donato did, Morningstaar at first declined to answer, but then said he was a businessman. When pressed, she said, a “business man who worked with children.” Finally she said he had been a local Boys Club executive. “Daniel Sperato was the director of our north branch until his death.” Said William Orme, executive director of the Long Beach Boys Club.
Sri (a title) Patricia is Morningland’s directress (leader). She operates from the sect’s Escondido temple.”We don’t use last names,” was Morningstaar’s reply when asked for Patricia’s last name. Patricia was Sperato’s wife. “She is our connection to Donato,” Pathena said. Morningstaar and Pathena are names given by Donato. Neither woman would give her real name or age. Morningland has eight Gopis, their highest level clergy, who work with Patricia, Morningstaar and Pathena are Gopis. The gopis are all female and celibate, Pathena said. There are some males in the minister corps, subordinates to the gopis. A board of gopis and members administers the church’s nonprofit corporation, Morningstaar said.
The congregation is called Rainbow Soldiers. More active men members are called Vulcans and the women counterparts are called Sanandas. Children are called future Vulcans or Sanandas. The more devout members use a Mind Lock designation. Some of the details about the church may be uncertain, but the faith is not. The offer an amalgamation of guidance they extract from tarot cards, numbers, palms, auras, telepathic feelings and the words of Donato. Morningland members try to achieve ” a constant telepathic rapport with the Mother Ship,” Morningstaar said. The Mother Ship, or heaven, is “the other plane where Donato is.”
They worship several figures, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mahatma Ghandi, St. Germain and Donato. Donato is a divine source, who, according to a leaflet, “is the mediator between the intergalactic dimension of earth and heaven.” The three temples are supported by pledges and donations from the members, and the proceeds from literature, speeches and clothing sold by members. No specific donation schedule has been established, Morningstaar said. However, former members have told law enforcement authorities that donations are required before gaining admittance to the classes offered nightly at the temples. Worship services are conducted Sunday evenings in the temple, which houses the main altar. It is here that the members perform their simple ritual of fire and water, according to Pathena.
The young woman knelt before a foot-high, flickering red candle and brushed her fingertips through the flame. She touched her chest and forehead. “The fire is purifying,” she said, not taking her eyes from the flame. Another one of Morningland’s tenants is a belief in healing. Donato could help members with various ailments and certain gopis can still transmit his healing power from the Mother Ship, according to the group’s literature. It is this area that is probably the most sensitive because of the death of a young woman being seen by Sperato. “We can’t heal everyone of all ills,” explained Morningsaar. Sperato never advised anyone away from a physician, she contended.
The woman, Katherine Means May, was from Escondido and a vocal group of citizens there is using her death as a lever to pry Morningland out of that community. Known only by a mailing address: Box 712, the group has sent anonymous hate letters to Sri Patricia, harassed gatherings of members and staged a fire extinguisher attack on Patricia, according to Morningland statements. Leaflets issued from Box 712 say Sperato treated the woman for breast cancer, urging her to ignore symptoms for several months before she died in January. “That is amazing,” Morningstaar said. “The family is attempting to blame her death on Morningland. It was recommended that she see a doctor and she was in and out of hospitals during that time.”
The troubles in Escondido run deeper than the death of the woman. On April 5, the Escondido City Council ordered a police investigation of Morningland and asked that the findings be transmitted to the San Diego County Grand Jury and district attorney. Morningland hired Edward Masry, a Los Angeles attorney, who responded with a federal lawsuit claiming Escondido was violating the group’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion. Damages of $10 million will be added to the suit this week, Masry said. Morningland, if it wins any money, will build a park for Escondido, he said. “We want the investigation stopped. There have been no criminal findings, Morningland isn’t afraid of anything. They are totally clean. The police aren’t interested in the truth” Masry commented.
He termed the City Council action “out of the McCarthy era. It was a unilateral decision. Morningland had no opportunity to reply.” “The investigation is continuing,” said police Sgt. Robert Mosemak. “There were allegations (of murder, kidnapping, thievery and mind control) made to the City Council and we’re just trying to prove or disprove them. Apparently their attorney feels we violated their rights by trying to do that. I’m trying to get both sides, but I’m only getting stories from one side. Their people do not want to talk,” Mosemak continued. “Escondido is like the old South in the 1920′s,” said Mahanta, who labels himself “Sri Patricia’s PR man.”
Patricia was unavailable for comment despite repeated telephone calls from the Times. “It’s getting to where the persecution level is crazy,” he said. Objects thrown at the temple from passing vehicles, bomb threats during ceremonies and members being fired from their jobs were listed by Mahanta as examples of the community’s attitude. “One of the main problems we’re having right now is with our children at their schools,” Mahanta said. “The parents of the other kids have them riled up against our children. Kids! Sri Patricia is getting a lot of letters – some really good and some really bad.” He said.
The Escondido temple ousted about half of its members in January. Mahanta’s explanation offers an insight into the workings and thoughts of the church’s management: “It was a point in time where Morningland conceived it was time to restructure itself. A cleaning up. There were a lot of people in it for themselves. They were in to undermine the organization. It was done in a group. People talked about what they saw other people doing. They were asked to reply to it. ‘You were seen doing this. What do you think?’ Basically, it was to clean out the type of people who felt they should be No.1 when the organization or the philosophy of Morningland is No. 1. Some were excommunicated, some are on a type of probation and were indoctrinated again.”
The leafleteers from Box 712 also accuse Morningland Gopis of trying to cover up Sperato’s death in November 1977. When Morningstaar and others appeared on a television show three days after Sperato’s heart attack, they said their leader’s appearance had been foiled by a flat tire, according to the leaflet. “We don’t believe in death,” Morningstaar responded, “so we made some kind of different statement that Donato would be delayed. It was an unusual situation and we felt it was in our best interests to go on with the show.” The Long Beach City Council was asked by Morningland to approve a strong support resolution this week. The resolution indicates that Morningland wants to become a national religion.
“Our goal is, quite frankly, to become nationwide,” Mahanta said. A temple in Riverside and increasing publications are the next step, he noted. Some sort of fruition will happen in the year 2025, said Morningstaar, showing a model of the group’s futuristic city to be built for that year. An eventual goal is to have 144,000 members, a number significant to Morningland. Morningland has seized on the current science fiction fad with Patricia’s latest public speaking engagement focusing on the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Patricia has spoken about her own encounters with aliens, Morningstaar said. The terms Vulcan and Mind Lock are taken from the television series Star Trek.