Oftentimes when people hear the word “cult,” images of a dilapidated basement come to mind, perhaps with a collection of wild-eyed fanatics chanting a cryptic hymn. Underground movements and bizarre ideologies are a few of the things we associate with this word.
We assume cults are just appealing to those who don’t have anything else to base their realities off of, and that the kind of mindset it takes to follow a cult is not one many of us might have.
“Really? I’d never drink the Kool-Aid. They must be brainwashed.”
However, contrary to the common traits of far away, in a candle-lit basement, and the odd, fantasy-like characters who subscribe to such ideologies, some may be shocked to hear that we have a cult operating right here in Edmonton, and not out of a dilapidated basement, but out of a seven-million-dollar venue.
John de Ruiter is a small town-born Albertan and hosts mass gatherings at his own personal venue, “The Oasis Club.” According to his website, de Ruiter fancies himself a philosopher, and even hosts weekly meetings at his “Oasis Edmonton College of Integrated Philosophy,” at the Oasis Club.
I spoke with Susan Raine, a professor of sociology at MacEwan University, who attended one of de Ruiter’s gatherings as a spectator as a means to study the sociological inner workings of cults.
According to Raine, de Ruiter’s spiritual journey began at age 17, when he claims to have experienced a state of “awakening” that soon disappeared. His life’s work and movement since then have been an effort to regain this spiritual state of self-actualization.
de Ruiter’s initial gatherings took place in his living room, but have now evolved and expanded to include people from all over the world who subscribe to his beliefs and teachings. Many of the practices taught by de Ruiter are akin to that of Buddhism, blended with other routes to self-actualization.
Raine said oftentimes “de Ruiter will not speak during his seminars, and that there is a form of ‘intimacy through silence‘ between him and his followers.” His gaze is said to be something mythical and charismatic, and many have reported seeing things after staring at him for long enough.
Whether real or perceived, these images include auras and fantastical transformations. If you were at one of the gatherings and were to ask de Ruiter a question, he may or may not choose to answer you. The response would either be an intimate stare, or a cryptic answer that is sometimes quite ambiguous.
Much like his choice to answer you in a seminar or not, it is also entirely up to de Ruiter to accept you as a full member into the movement. Raine said there was a difference between those who attend his events casually, and those who hold a higher position within the movement. Those who wish to become a member must first be accepted by de Ruiter himself.
People have moved from all across the world to live in Edmonton, with the sole intention of being closer to de Ruiter and his movement. However, the devotion of de Ruiter’s followers doesn’t stop there.
At one of de Ruiter’s conventions, his wife Joyce publicly confronted him for having cheated on her, an accusation made in front of three hundred of his loyal followers. According to Raine, de Ruiter was having an affair with two young women at the time, both daughters of one of his many financial supporters.
Despite a controversial marital track record, everything de Ruiter does is legal. He makes his money off of funds from his sponsors, novels, and the commercialization of his seven-million-dollar Oasis Club, which can be rented for weddings and other such events.
Despite the obvious attraction to de Ruiter because of his charisma, the appeal is still something many don’t understand.
“People often seek meaning in their life in the form of spiritual fulfillment, and many, including de Ruiter himself, are unable to find such fulfillment within mainstream religion,” Raine said. “When people come together there is a sense of unity among them living for the same cause that can lead people towards their spiritual fulfillment, or self actualization.”
Cover photo by Dboybaker / CC BY.