by Steve Ryan, formerly Mon-Ra-Sone
First and most importantly, I’d like to apologize to those I directly injured while I was in Morningland. I did and said things that to this day make me cringe. I am truly sorry for my participation in those horrid moments, and I ask for your forgiveness.
I entered Morningland in Long Beach at the age of 20 in July of 1977, and left at the age of 27 in August of 1984. Though it was only 7 years, it felt like forever.
Before Morningland my life was chaos. I came out as a gay man when I was 18 in April 1975. I was very angry and bitter for society having previously labeled and treated my kind as deviant subhumans.
My friendships were very few. I desperately wanted to belong to something bigger, something meaningful, but because I was gay I was sure there wasn’t anything for me.
In July of 1977 I was a high-end sex-worker living in my pimp’s condo. I was Danny’s sole prostitute. I’d been his worker for about six months. The arrangement was simple: hold a daytime job, service any man he brought to his home at night, and in return I’d be given room, board, drugs, pretty much everything imaginable. Danny made about $2,000 per trick. I on the other hand got to keep all my salary from my day job. For a 20-year-old gay man like myself, this was a great financial set-up. However, Danny was very hard to live with and we argued often.
One day I’d spontaneously quit my banking job without telling Danny. I knew this was forbidden. I knew I’d screwed up. I knew there would be repercussions. But I was not prepared for what followed. Danny was alerted within minutes of my leaving the bank before I’d even returned home. Long story short, I’d broken our contract. My things were outside on the porch. I was locked out with a letter taped to the door, “You do not live here. Leave.” In a way I was just fine with that. I had money and alternatives.
I stayed that night at my dad’s. In the morning I received a phone call from my long-lost bisexual friend Debbie. We’d grown up together as childhood neighbors. She was calling to track me down to tell me about Morningland. By noon we were together having lunch in Long Beach where she lived just blocks away from the temple. What she shared was beyond extraordinary.
Morningland was a spiritual community that accepted gays and lesbians. It was started by a guy named Donato, who’d died the year before in 1976. He was the ‘10th and final descent of the Holy Father’ in human form. His ‘Twin-Flame’ was Gopi Sri Patricia, later referred to as Sri Donato, or just Sri, who was ‘One with Donato the Christ’. Morningland was the final plan to rescue the ‘144,000 incarnated light-bearers’ from earth, and that there would be no further attempts to rescue these people as time was up for this planet. Some of the other descents were Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad. Morningland was run by ten ‘Gopis’, all women, all of them ‘One with Donato’. There overall philosophy was ‘We are all One.’ Heavy stuff, but intriguing, no?
Debbie was an aspirant. Her intent was to be accepted for discipleship in the next few days or weeks. We talked all day and night. This was exciting stuff! I stayed over and the next day we attended a ‘Festival of Light’ fair at Morningland where the Gopis and their assistant disciples performed astrology and other ‘telepathic’ readings. The atmosphere was pleasantly unusual, everyone dressed in flowing sort-of hippie-like clothing, all smiling and helpful, seemingly interested in meeting new people like me. The music that the wandering minstrels played was great. I liked the vibe so much I decided to be an aspirant during my palmistry reading with Gopi Aria. I bought some Morningland jewelry and literature.
I felt like I’d found a place where I belonged. What a great day!
I began taking classes. I wanted to absorb as much of this very cool environment as I could. I eventually had an upcoming appointment for an astrology reading with Gopi Tanene. I intended to ask her for discipleship.
Tanene pointed out that my astrology chart showed I had both gay and straight tendencies, and that I’d find my ‘soul mate’ right here in Morningland. She explained my soul mate might be female, there was no way to know. I should look around the ashram, be open to dating women for a little while before making a definite decision to be gay or straight. I should ask Tanene first before asking anyone out in case they were already spoken for. She made it clear I could not be ‘sitting on the fence’ in this manner for long without dire spiritual consequences. I later learned this term meant ‘no bisexuality’.
I thought all that odd. I knew I was gay. I did find women attractive, just not sexually. Maybe in time women would seem as attractive sexually as men? I’d no idea. Regardless, it was all intriguing. I asked for discipleship and was accepted. I was on a cloud! I was one of the 144,000! How great is that!?
I spent all my free time at Morningland. I became more and more dedicated to this wonderful place. I’d do anything I was asked: clean, cook, help with garage sales, anything for ‘The Plan’.
Eventually I met face to face the leader of Morningland, Gopi Sri Patricia, in Long Beach while she was walking through hallway of the main Morningland temple reception area. I was with Tanene at the time. Sri stopped and said to Tanene,
Keep this one close by. This one is special,” and moved on. My ego of course soared.
While assisting the instructors of a ‘Oneness’ class, I met a female aspirant, Anne. With permission from Tanene we started dating, and married in September of 1979.
Prior to our marriage I had my vasectomy, which was expected of all male disciples. Simply put, having a vasectomy was beneficial in two ways. First, we should not be bringing in more incarnating souls. It would be easier to rescue these trapped souls from the astral plane where they are trapped as we disciples make our ascensions than it is to have them reincarnate and have to develop their own circuitry (your ‘higher spiritual body’ that is one with Donato overlaying your human form). Secondly, we needed to build our own circuitry which allows us to make our own ascensions. (I’m not even going to try to explain all the ins-and-outs of this here. I know it sounds ridiculous and fishy. Further, children in Morningland were considered a distraction to a disciple’s growth, much like pets were also considered. Having children, unless you already did, or pets, was highly discouraged during the time I was in Morningland.)
Though Anne and I had a pretty good sexual relationship, I still desired men. I hoped, expected even, that eventually my desires for men would go away. They did not.
In Morningland all disciples were focused on uncovering their life-altering ‘healings’ by Donato. We needed to be able to scream it from the rooftops! We were required to know our healings and share them publicly. If we didn’t know our healing, we were considered not serious about our discipleship. And, we were expected to bring in ten aspirants that made it to discipleship or we were failing.
My main healing was unique in that, as Sri pointed out over and over, I was not trapped by my ‘human form’s sexuality’ and was able to find my soul mate that had incarnated in female form, contrary to my human nature, that I’d risen above it. This became more and more embellished as time went on.
One of my closest friends in Morningland was a gay guy named Steve. We were sent on several missions to go out in public and ‘hook for Christ’, meaning going out to gay bars, churches and hangouts, and lure people into Morningland. Steve was eventually elevated to the order of ‘Kamazi’, the highest-ranking male order in the ‘ashram’, akin to the female order of Gopi. Gopis, Kamazis and a few others were all members of what was called the Council, or Inner Circle. Even though Steve and I were suddenly in different orders, we continued to be sent out to ‘hook for Christ’.
Steve began sharing with me how he was being placed with others Kamazis sexually. It frustrated him. It was all done to ‘raise their kundalinis’ and to ‘build their circuitry’ to get closer to the Master Donato. He talked about occasional drug use, about who was sleeping with whom. None of this surprised or bothered me, and he knew that as well. I was safe. Through all my personal chats with Sri privately and sometimes with Steve present it was all hinted at anyway.
Sri explained the other disciples simply were not developed enough to understand or handle knowing these things. Steve left Morningland after a few months. One of Morningland’s most popular sayings behind closed doors was,
Out of sight, out of mind!” and
Don’t let the door hit you in the ass when you leave!”.
Disciples were not to linger on thinking about any of those that left, and instead to focus on our own growth.
Forget about the past. Live in the Now!”
The things Sri and others in the Council would say about him were just horrible, like,
He’ll just die from AIDS now that he’s gone over to the Dark Side.”
So flippant. Just horrible. They’d speak like this about many ex-disciples.
As time flew by, I was moved to the order of Lama, which consisted of ten men. We were one of the groups in the Outer Circle that worked closely with the Council. A few months after my move, I found my constant proximity to and isolation with these ten other men too distracting. I was becoming more and more frustrated, and my relationship with Anne was suffering.
Over the weekend of Friday, July 27, 1984, I was with the other Lamas and a few Council members at an all-male retreat up in Crestline, a Morningland property up in the San Bernardino mountains. It was that Sunday on the way back to Long Beach I’d determined that I must have my marriage dissolved. Something had to give. I figured the all-knowing Sri was aware of my predicament, and if she said I was out, then I was out. Anything was better than the suffering. I was ready to move on.
A couple days later I’d decided to make my announcement. I was a manager at a hotel working mainly the afternoon shifts, 3pm to 11pm. I always arrived late to my Lama class directed by Sri and other Council members. This night, I entered my class and sat on the floor next to Sri. When eventually there was a break in the discussion, Sri turned to me and asked how my work shift went, what had I learned today? I took a deep breath and blurted out that I needed to be released from my marriage vows because we were not sexually compatible, that I had to be with a man.
Maybe you know that moment when you’re at the dentist and being given nitrous oxide, or when you’ve hyperventilated and are about to pass out, or when you stand up too quickly, where everything visually starts to take on a fuzzy sheen, your hearing starts to get all buzzy, like you’ll pass out any second. That’s what that moment was like. I could hear Sri saying to the class things like, “Ignore him”, “how quickly someone so high can fall so low’, “he learned nothing in all the years he’s been here”, “We’re removing his circuitry”, and “He’s but a ghost.” I was being shunned. I’d never seen this in Morningland, let alone experienced it.
Class continued and it was as if all sound was sucked out of the room, like I was in a vacuum, feeling extremely dizzy and confused, unable to follow what little I could hear being spoken in class. It seemed like an eternity. Class eventually ended, some staying behind, most leaving the room, no one daring to speak to me and vice versa. I drifted home across the street. Anne was not home when I entered. Obviously, she’d been informed something was amiss and held back at the temple.
I’d done what I’d set out to do, yet I’d never seen anyone shunned before. Normally you’d be escorted to the door, your discipleship medallion would be yanked off your neck, and you’d be told to honor your ‘Vow of Silence’, to never speak of or contact Morningland again. That’s not at all what happened to me.
Anne came home very late, slipping into bed without a word, and got up early, slipping out of the house to go to Morningland without a word. I stayed away from Morningland during the day and went to work for my afternoon weekend shift. I returned home from work after 11:00pm. Anne was not at home, and just as the previous night and morning played out, so would this night. I didn’t truly sleep at all, just lay in bed thinking, “What do I do now?”
I remember in the morning Anne getting up early to go to the temple again without saying a word. My Sunday shift was 8am to 3pm. No Anne. I decided I’d go to Sunday Service that evening and get this over with one way or the other. Either I would be let in or refused entry. I’d no idea it was about to be even worse. I’m not really sure why I didn’t just pack up and leave.
I waited until I saw all the people gathered at the temple doors entering the temple, and then made my way over. Non-disciples and guests were being ushered towards the parking lot. Disciples were being seated in what we called ‘The Dome Room’ (an ancillary building beside the temple proper, a large warehouse-like room). I spoke not a word and purposely steered clear from sitting next to any other Lamas or Council members. And it was obvious I was being shunned by them as well as none of them would make eye contact with me.
Anne arrived from through the kitchen area at the back and sat in a seat far away from me, also not making eye contact. A class of sorts began. You could cut the air with a knife being the atmosphere was so thick with dread. Next, the disciples were being separated. If your name was called you were to go directly to the temple. Anne’s name was called. Mine was not.
Those of us remaining were escorted through the kitchen and down the hallway to a faraway room off the main street. The room was lit only by candlelight. No music. No incense. Silence. No one dared speak.
A Council member summarily informed us that we were contaminating the pure disciples, aspirants and guests. We were not one with Sri Donato. We would not be allowed to enter the Temple proper until we became clear. We were to listen and absorb what was being given to us. We were told we were as new aspirants, and this was our Oneness class. If we were in relationships, we were to have no physical or verbal contact with our partners. The same went for those with disciple roommates. We were not to talk about Morningland with others, not even at our workplaces.
We were told our class would resume on Tuesday, and again on Thursday. We were to stay away from the temple except for attending class. We were dismissed from all our prior Morningland duties. We were not to come to Sunday Service. We were to arrive on time or not at all. If we did not come to class, we would be considered to have left Morningland. We were to spend the remainder of our time away from Morningland reflecting on what it meant to be aspirants of Donato the Christ, to get back ‘on beam’ or leave. “Are there any questions?” Complete foreboding silence.
Then we were given the opportunity to speak. Two disciples saved themselves, got back ‘on beam’, and were ushered out. Sri paraded into our group several times, each with a solitary Outer Circle disciple. Sri and the disciple would stand just inside the doorway. Sri would whisper comments such as,
Can you smell the fear in here?”
“What do you see?”
“Don’t be afraid to speak, we won’t let harm come to you.”
On and on, just above a whisper so we’d all hear. And of course, the disciple beside her would express horrible visions. Then they’d both leave, and Sri would reappear with yet another.
It was a sickening, mind-shattering night. I kept my mouth shut. I may have been sitting in that room, but I knew I was no longer in Morningland, and I’d never suffered that form of shaming again. I was now done with it.
I went home, went to bed. Anne came home very late. Next morning, Monday, Anne got up early and left to work. I got up, called the hotel, and set up an appointment to speak with my General Manager. We met about an hour later. I told him that I was divorcing my wife and leaving Morningland (of which he was familiar with) and asked if I could stay at the hotel until I’d made some stable arrangements. He could see I was distraught, holding back tears. He suggested I remain indefinitely, even if it took a couple of months. It was not an issue. He even gave me a huge hug and I bawled. I was being helped and cared about. Unbelievable.
When I returned home from my afternoon shift, Anne again was not there. I went to bed and finally slept soundly. I don’t remember Anne coming home.
I awoke unafraid of the choice I’d made. I got up, made coffee, turned on the TV. I knew Anne was forbidden from speaking to me, and she soon got up, grabbed a cup of coffee, showered, dressed, and headed out the door.
I wrote a simple farewell letter, placing it, my medallion, wedding ring and other jewelry on the counter. I put what was mine in the car and went to my new hotel-home.
I believe Donato, Dan Sperato, wanted to build a spiritual community. I believe he meant well. I believe he was a narcissist. I believe Sri, Patricia Diablo-Sperato, unfortunately was a narcissistic psychopath incapable of empathy, emboldened by her charismatic abilities and others’ obedience. I admit I am thankful she’s passed away, and no longer able to create others in her image. And I’m thankful Morningland has dwindled to meager numbers.
I do not believe in Karma, a Creator, Forces of Darkness, or Forces of Light. From Morningland’s perspective this makes me a member of the ‘other side’ or ‘dark side’. I truly don’t care as it isn’t relative to my reality. I rarely ever have a dream with anyone from Morningland in it, and when I do, it’s just a dream. I’m not canceling out my time in Morningland. It was indeed an important part of my past, filled with not just pain but much love as well. But it is a dangerous cult, and it’s impossible to see this when you’re caught up in it.
I was fortunate to have a great therapist who helped me make sense of so much that had happened. I’m in contact with many friends who also left Morningland. I’m in the 20th year of a wonderful marriage to a man I am honored to be with and love to the core of my being.