So you may have heard about this John Friend/Anusara scandal. Continuing the recent resurgence of media coverage comes an article from The Daily Beast, this time getting down to the nitty gritty on the now infamous Blazing Solar Flames, the alleged Wicca coven that went beyond the axioms of paganism and into the realm of sex cult and abuse of power according to an ex-member.
If you’ve been turned off so far by all the attention surrounding the sexploits of a popular and yoga-worldly powerful teacher then you may want to avert your eyes for this one.
A much different approach than the New York Magazine piece, published online on the same day, TDB’s intro starts straight in with racy details.
On a chilly New Year’s Eve in 2009, John Friend—the popular and charismatic founder of Anusara yoga—lay naked on a bearskin rug in front of a blazing fire at his home in the Woodlands, Texas, while three underwear-clad women hovered over him, massaging his body with sweetly-scented oil. One rubbed his head, neck, and shoulders, another worked on his hands, while a third rubbed his inner thighs and pelvic region, her whole body writhing sinuously to the new-age sitar melodies playing in the background.
The article focuses on an account from former coven member and “High Priestess” Melissa, the “Hermione” to John Friend’s “Harry Potter” in sharing interests in pagan traditions and philosophies as well as sharing them to Anusara students. But Melissa (whose real name was not used) says there was more to John Friend’s Wiccan rituals than she was used to.
Traditionally, Wiccans worship pagan deities and celebrate seasonally-based festivals or “Sabbats.” Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa.
“It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.
Recalling a particular experience in the coven’s practice of regular sensual naked massage,
“Suddenly I started crying and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t tell if I was embarrassed, even though these were people I was supposed to trust.” When it came time for Friend’s massage, she recalled suddenly feeling the situation “was like something out of Hustler orPenthouse, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this guy is living the dream.’”
There seemed to be a bigger plan for the group and Anusara as a team, but by then the master plan was starting to show holes, and John, his tendencies.
Earlier that spring, Friend had explained to Melissa what she described as “a world-expansion plan” for his yoga school and company and his desire to trademark the Anusara philosophy.
But also by that time, according to another former teacher who wished to remain anonymous, Friend’s original philosophy of “intrinsic goodness” had become watered down by his brand, and the dynamic within his inner his kula—Sanskrit for “community”—had become tainted by a “culture of favoritism.”
Melissa said Friend rewarded students and employees he liked, while effectively blacklisting those who questioned his power or philosophy. At one point, Melissa said, she was on the receiving end of his favoritism. “He called me HP [High Priestess], but it became clear that I was serving at John’s pleasure and that at any moment I could be demoted out of coven,” she said. “John would say things like, ‘Eventually, we might have to find another HP.’ But meanwhile, he was always going to be the GM. It was his clubhouse.”
This habit of choosing favorites and keeping secrets has been echoed by other teachers who have since resigned from Anusara including Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti, outside any Wicca coven or sexual circles. NYC yoga teacher Kelly Morris sums up the situation: “Attending a yoga class where a teacher is generating bed-buddies while expounding on spiritual matters is like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy.”
Or the wizard has come out from behind the curtain. We believe this account to be a truthful telling of one person’s experience within the circle. In the very least we hope this will help spare the reputation of Wicca and paganism, which many readers have pointed out are not the “evil” nor the problem here.
It all sounds very fantastical. As one facebook commenter said, we’re waiting for Blazing Solar Flames The Movie. Is Mel Brooks still in Hollywood?
[The Daily Beast John Friend Anusara Scandal: Inside the Wiccan ‘Sex’ Coven]
- New York Magazine on John Friend ‘Karma Crash’ and Anusara Melt-Down – Post-Scandal Interview
- Running Timeline of Anusara Controversy, Updates and Teacher Resignations
- True Confessions of Former Anusara Teachers
- Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti on Leaving Anusara and Recent Controversy
- New ‘Rock Your Yoga’ TV Show Will Star Yoga’s Rock Star Sadie Nardini
- Wanderlust LIVE Becomes the Magic Kingdom Anusaraland Could Have Been