The Pearl of Great Price." />
The Illumined Heart:
Kevin Allen: Welcome to this addition of The Illumined Heart. I have long wanted to do a program, or programs, on the subject of contemporary New Age movements, from the perspective of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, of course.
My guest today more than qualifies as an experiential expert. My guest, Veronica Hughes, set out on a spiritual journey over 20+ years ago that has taken her through more spiritual movements than anyone I have ever interviewed. She did not enter any of them simply as a dilettante, or as an observer, but with the heart of a seeker.
From Hatha yoga, to psychic healing, to Erhard Seminar Training better known as EST, to initiation with a famous Hindu guru, to shamanism, to channeling of spirits, Tibetan Buddhism, Theosophy, and eventually, to rediscovering her childhood faith in Christ in the Orthodox Church, my guest has covered significant spiritual mileage. She is working on a book about her journey, titled, The Pearl of Great Price, and I have had the privilege of reading the manuscript.
Veronica and her husband, Gregory, attend St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, which is an OCA parish in San Anselmo, California. In Part I today, we are going to cover Veronica’s introduction to the occult, and her subsequent experiences in yoga, astrology, and some other New Age practices.
Veronica Hughes, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio.
Veronica: Thank you. I am really happy to be here, too.
Kevin: Thank you. It’s so good to have you. You wrote in your manuscript that you were introduced to the occult as a child by your Roman Catholic aunt, Lena. Tell us a little bit about that.
Veronica: My Aunt Lena was an import from Italy. She came over in 1921. She was raised in rural Italy. In the village communities in rural Italy, they were very devout, and they were also very superstitious and dabbled in all kinds of different aspects of the occult, not really thinking that it was the occult, it was just part of their superstitious culture.
They dabbled in tea leaves and Tarot cards, and went for readings with fortune tellers. I’m sure gypsies would come through the countryside, and that was a big highlight of their day if they went and got their fortunes told by a fortune teller. Before she came to America in 1921 she even went to a fortune teller with her sister and asked what was going to happen to her. This is very much what I grew up with.
My Aunt Lena actually read tea leaves and did Tarot card readings for her workers in the factories on their breaks. She would do them for my sister and I, and we just accepted this as, “Oh, this is fun, and we’re going to find out something.” This was just part of our lives. And then we would go to church with her every day, so it was kind of a dichotomy that I grew up with and felt very comfortable with.
Kevin: You mentioned your Catholic Church background. You had a spiritual experience in a Roman Catholic camp, as you state in your manuscript. You wrote, if I can quote it, “I was praying to Mary alone in the eautiful little chapel, and while praying, a soft, sweet light touched me, and held me in its embrace for what seemed like an eternity.”
Yet, I was struck, Veronica, that this experience in your youth, which is something that many of us never had, wasn’t enough to sustain you through Christian formation beyond childhood. Why not?
Veronica: The problem with my family when I was growing up, in terms of religious continuity, is that while one side of my family was Italian, the other side was marginally Protestant. It was my mother who discouraged me from pursuing my spiritual calling when I came back from that retreat, and I felt very aflame with the spirit of wanting to devote my life to God.
My mother, who is more of a worldly kind of gal, grew up during the depression. She joined the service, she is a snappy dresser, and she just wanted her kids, especially her daughters, to grow up, get married, have children, and have a regular life. When I came back from that retreat all aflame, saying I wanted to become a nun, my mother, I think, went into shock.
She really discouraged me from pursuing anything further about a spiritual life. She said, “Dear, let’s wait and see.” And that became a phrase that I would remember throughout my life. Let’s wait and see what happens. You don’t really know what you want to do now, and let’s just wait and see.
So we did wait and see, and wait and see became a dampening of the spirit within me. I think that it is really good for parents to realize, that when their children come home aflame with certain intentions, spiritually, it is a really good thing to encourage them to pursue that. In my case, I slowly lost the spirit that I had, and then other things occurred in my life which kept pushing me farther and father away from the original religious upbringing that I had, and I did lose that spiritual awakening.
Kevin: You were in a serious accident as a young lady that created great physical pain, and you began going to different modalities of healing to try to address that. You wound up in Hatha yoga, which is the physical yoga, one of the four or five different yogic practices. Tell us a little bit about that and how you view Hatha yoga at this point, from your Orthodox Christian perspective. Do you see it as physical exercise? Is there something inherently spiritual about it that is hard to separate?
Veronica: Maybe first, because we are going to be delving into a lot of different sp, I’d like to say that the part that I find very validating about any kind of spiritual pursuit is, actually, the pursuit. In other words, there is a part in each one of us, that God has put there, that wants to unite with Him. I started to move away from the church when I was getting into my teens and became more and more disillusioned with the Catholic church, I yet still had something inside of me that was longing for the peace that passes all understanding.
When I was in the automobile accident with my mother, she and I both were looking for something to help relieve the physical pain. She suggested that we do yoga. Neither one of us had done it before. When I started to do it, I noticed there was incense, there were statues, like in the Catholic church. There were prayers being said, or mantras being whispered, and I was breathing, and I was doing something that was actually helping to relax my body and make me feel good. I could not, at that point, see that there was a difference between feeling good and, actually, the peace that passes all understanding.
I started to go into more of this process which I have now determined is kind of a sensual searching for things that would help me to feel good, because, in a sense, I was really wanting to resolve certain issues I had around suffering. It was physical suffering at that time that I was identified with, and yoga offered what seemed to be a relief from the suffering.
I do think the physical aspect of the exercises in Hatha yoga are very useful, and I still do some of those, but I do them with the Jesus Prayer now, because some of them are very good for my body. This is part of the problem, why I am writing my book, and what I wish to address. There is a distinction between feeling good and finding internal peace that passes all understanding. We get those very mixed up if we don’t understand, or have discrimination, that is taught in the church, and not taught in the world.
Kevin: I’d like to prompt you to expand a little bit more on that. I think that is an important point. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean?
Veronica: Sure. There are different ways that we feel things through the world, and through our senses is one of them. God gave us our senses in order to be able to sense Him, to sense and be in touch with our creator. After the fall, after we entered into a state of sin, our senses became more directed toward feeling good to fill our void, because we were in a state of separation from God after the fall.
Most of the different techniques and religions that I have explored have their manner of taking us into feeling good, or into raising our worldly senses in an effort to lift us higher toward a higher spiritual sense of our connection with God. But there is a danger in most of those religions because it is a look-alike to actually being connected with God.
Kevin: Maybe even a counterfeit.
Veronica: Yes, my term for counterfeit is a look-alike. It looks like something that it isn’t.
Kevin: So are you saying that there is almost even a counterfeit sense of peace, that you can feel a physical, or a carnal peace, but it’s not really being in communion with God?
Veronica: Exactly, yes. With Hinduism you are doing mantras which enrapture your senses, and the mantras are actually being chanted to Shiva, for instance, Om namah Shivaya, to Shiva, who is a God in the Hindu religion, but who really is Shiva.
Shiva is, in actuality, in my perspective now after years and years of self-searching and tears, a demonic force. Unknowingly, we are chanting Om namah Shivaya, and lifting ourselves into a blissful state, but it is a state that enraptures our senses and doesn’t necessarily lift our soul into the peace that passes all understanding.
Kevin: With the one who is really God.
Veronica: Exactly, yes, because you are told to seek your higher self, and that you are seeking enlightenment that comes through your guru, and it is a self-egotistic kind of system that you don’t really realize because you are focusing around your guru, and the guru becomes the god, and you become the disciple of the guru, and the guru is the disciple of what god? A good question to ask.
Kevin: We will get into Hinduism in just a minute. It really comes down to almost a self-deification.
Veronica: Yes, right.
Kevin: Let’s talk a little bit about astrology. You were very involved in that, and I have heard some Christians of various stripes say that astrology is harmless. Do you see it that way?
Veronica: Yes and no. These days, in order to connect with a lot of my friends who are into astrology, and I was into astrology, so yes, I can say that I am a Capricorn, and yes I know that means that I can be this and that, and I can humorously connect in with that. The problem is, again, it is a distraction offered by the world, which talks about us.
Most of these different types of systems, like astrology, or numerology, or even channeling—when I was dealing with the Michael teaching, we had a whole structure for breaking down the personality types and what soul age you were—all of that stimulates our curiosity about these unknown things, but it also is all about us.
It is supposedly for personal growth and yes, I could say that when I was doing it, I did see, and could feel, that a lot of these ways of categorizing and experiencing life through an astrological sign seemed valid. But at the same time, all that time I could have spent praying to God, or I could have spent giving energy to somebody, or something, in a very different fashion.
As I grow older and I deepen into my experience of the Orthodox faith, I see that all these things are distractions, taking us, in little ways, away from our relationship with God and more into relationship with our egos, or perhaps into something that is occultly or demonically related.
Kevin: You have had what you have described as “out of body” experiences and in these states or conditions met various spiritual guides, and so on. As you look back on that now, what do you think all that was? Was it demonic interaction? Was it a form of delusion, or self-hypnosis, or was it truly out of body? How do you view it now?
Veronica: I would say that it is all of what you mentioned, and I would say that out of body, as defined by St. Paul, when he had his out of body experience where he was brought up into the third heaven, and there are other saints that have talked about their experiences of being out of body, is very different than the out of body experiences that I had. I would say that my out of body experiences were self-hypnotic, trance-induced states, and that I was self-deluded, and that perhaps some of them actually allowed demonic forces to engage with me.
Kevin: One of the concerns you have, of course, when a person is in these experiences and pursue such methodologies—the psychic healing, the spiritual guides, the out of body, the channeling—is that there is danger in them. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov calls the realm that one gets into, the aerial realm, where Satan and the demons dwell. Do you feel that you were involved in demonic activity, and was that something that you had to address later on?
Veronica: Yes, I do. I didn’t at the time, and I really thought, as do most seekers, that what I was doing was really going to bring me enlightenment, and bring me what I was seeking. I don’t want to make that wrong, because there was a part of me, as in every seeker, that is, really, honestly seeking God. The problem is that we lack discernment and we don’t have the training to be able to distinguish between what is demonic and what is not.
When I was being trained as a channel, we were told by the guides that were talking to us through a channel, that these are the things that you can do to make sure that demonic forces do not attach themselves to you, or attack you. I believed, listening to the channel, that that was true, because why wouldn’t it be? This was all very exciting. I would be sitting there, finding out things about myself, feeling like I was growing and learning all these things, and working on myself. I would say over and over again, yes, I’m working on myself.
But, in reality, who were we channeling? I will tell you that it took me maybe five years, after my baptism, of deep searching within me, and being laid up with a back problem again, only this time it went on for two years, in which I had nowhere to go, after I had converted within my heart, before I could confront what I had done and what was actually happening to me.
I was reading literature and different Orthodox books written by holy fathers and different saints, that these practices were demonic, and when I was converting, I couldn’t even deal with that. It was just so painful to think that I had spent many years dealing with demonic forces, so I really could not even confront that when I was converting. I just pushed it aside.
But it was later on in the process of the deepening of my conversion into the Orthodox faith that I began to realize that, yes, I had opened myself up to demonic forces. I remembered vividly, many different times when I had done that, and what could I do? I had done it. But it was because of the lack of spiritual discernment. I wasn’t raised with any real, clear discernment on that level.
Kevin: Something you said earlier struck me. Even the channel, itself, acknowledged that there were demonic entities, out there, if you will, in the spirit realm, that you are supposed to be protected from. I find that very interesting.
Veronica: Right. That’s what it made it seem as if these were the good guys and there were others out there that were the bad guys, and they were protecting us from the bad guys.
Kevin: That kind of gives me shivers when I hear about this. I would like to segue into Hinduism, a subject that you may know I am very interested in. You were a student of a very well-known guru, Swami Muktananda. You were taught visualization meditation, experiencing the opening of your chakras, the awakening of the Kundalini, or the spiritual centers. I would like you to talk a little bit about that experience.
Some might be thinking as we are going along, “What’s wrong with meditation if it brings you peace or self-mastery?” Maybe you could talk a little bit about your introduction to Siddha yoga with Muktananda and how you view it.
Veronica: My introduction came through illness. Illness seems to be one of the pivotal turning points in my life, frequently. It makes me start to have to look at my life and what I am doing and where I am going. At the time, before I became introduced to Muktananda, I was dealing with several health problems colliding on me all at once. I was depressed, I had many hormonal problems going on, and my back was bothering me tremendously.
I remember waking up each day for about a year and crying every day because I was so depressed. I actually went to a psychic healer because a friend of mine suggested it. That was my actual first experience, really, with channeling and going “out of my body” in a way that I don’t consider healthy now, looking back. But at the time, I went out of my body and I had a conversation with her guides, and when I came back in, she said to me, “Wow, you’re really adept at doing this and you would make a good psychic healer.”
That was sort of the beginning of my career, or even beginning to look at that sort of thing. She suggested that to get better, I should go and see a holistic doctor. At that time, in the 1970s, there were not very many of them around, and I wound up going to the holistic doctor who was the doctor for Swami Muktananda.
Veronica: Yes, and I didn’t know that. I went into his office and he had pictures of Muktananda all over his office. He had Muktananda’s mantra playing while he was examining me and he was doing things I had never seen a doctor do before, like using pendulums and muscle testing to assess what was going on with my body. He was actually a good physician. He suggested that I start doing yoga again and go buy a copy of the mantra tape. He explained to me who he was and what he was doing and how this had helped him.
I found that when I was in his office listening to the mantra tape that I did start to feel more calm inside. So I dutifully and obediently got the tape and took it home and I started to listen to it, and do yoga every day, and meditate for a good hour or more a day.
After doing that for three or four months, one time I was lying there resting after the yoga and a blue light appeared before me when my eyes were closed. Then behind that, the full figure of an Indian man came, and he reached his finger out and touched me on my third eye, which is right above the nose, for people that don’t know where that is on your forehead.
I went into a state of deep trance, and when I came out of that, I did, actually, feel quite different, and I had no idea what had happened to me. I went back to the psychic healer that I had, and she said, “Oh, that was Swami Muktananda. He initiated you.”
I eventually went to the Ashram to find out what this was that was happening to me and, bought some books, and was told, “Oh, you received the initiation from the guru internally, and this is very special. Wow.” That was how I began my relationship with Muktananda and Hinduism.
I did go to visit him. I went down to Santa Monica and went to a weekend retreat to meet him in person because I had this ongoing relationship with him. He came to me in my dreams and in my meditations and he would actually tell me what to do to get better, for instance, to visualize my ovaries, which were part of my problem. When I visualized them, I saw them as black. He said, “Take them from black to white.” I would work on that, and believe me, that was a very challenging thing to do, and it took me about a year to do it.
I went to L.A. and saw him and was in his initiation and I just didn’t feel comfortable there. I felt much more comfortable at home than I did with crowds, or with people and the guru, because there were so many people. The initiation, itself, was rather disturbing to me because he would walk around with a peacock feather and bop people on the head while we were in meditation. You can imagine there were a couple of thousand people in this room, and as he would go around and bop people on the head, they would start crowing, making very strange sounds. It sounded like a zoo.
I was sitting on the other end of the room, he hadn’t reached me, and I was thinking, “Gee, I sure hope this doesn’t happen to me.” I started actually praying to God, saying, “I don’t really want to crow God. I don’t want to make wheezing sounds, or start doing any of this weird stuff.” He passed me by three times before he actually bopped me on the head, and thankfully, nothing like that happened to me.
In retrospect, when I look back at that, those are clear indications of demonic possession, so what did I get myself into? Twenty years later I am thinking, “Thank God I prayed to God at that moment.” Lord only knows what would have happened to me in that moment, but my assessment now of what happened to me, when whoever it was touched me on my third eye in the dream, is that I actually think because I was chanting Om namah Shivaya over and over again, and demons can appear as something that they are not, that a demon appeared to me and initiated me. It wasn’t my guru who initiated me.
Kevin: I have been e-mailing with an Orthodox convert, I won’t mention his name, who came out of that very lineage, the Muktananda movement, the Siddha yoga movement that you are referring to. I am not sure if he was initiated by Muktananda or by his female successor.
Again, this is private, and I am just talking in general terms, but he has a different take on things. His view is that Muktananda was a saintly man and there is spiritual value in Siddha yoga. He and I have been dialoguing on what that value is, and could be, and how it could even be possible to reconcile Eastern non-Christian spirituality with Orthodox Christian spirituality.
You sort of touched on this a little bit before, Veronica Hughes. When you read the books about Elder Paisius, about him appearing to people at long distances, and entering through their dreams, and even entering into them and taking a look around at their spiritual insides, you can make certain correlations between those extraordinary experiences and some of these things that you are talking about, so it is tough, isn’t it, the make these discernments?
Veronica Hughes: Very difficult, and I will say that there was value that I derived from my 10-12 years in Hinduism, because I learned discipline. It did help me to open up to God again, because I was pretty closed to God after leaving the Catholic Church, and it helped me to feel comfortable with religion again.
There were many things that helped me to prepare for my spiritual life in Orthodoxy, in that I had to learn the discipline of sitting down and meditating and that I did learn to be devotional again and so those things are very positive things. The problem is that we are working with a religion that is founded on sorcery and praying to demons.
Kevin: Let me interrupt you. Of course, they would not agree with that.
Veronica: No, not at all.
Kevin: Therein lies the difference.
Veronica: Right, and it is because we have an experience of Christ and the true God, but they don’t, so people can’t be judged. Even I, in my fallen state, when I entered into studying Hinduism, did it because I was seeking, and I had rejected the Catholic Church.
I can’t say that I was completely wrong, in the fact that I was seeking. I was just misdirected and misguided. But I was seeking, and that is very important. It is just that we have to keep in mind that if something is not of Christ, it is not God. That is the real challenge. How do you determine the difference? Demons can disguise themselves as anything they want.
Kevin: On that note, and since our time for Part I is over, perhaps we could take a break here, Veronica Hughes, if that is okay, and then we will begin next time, when we have quite a lot more interesting ground to cover.
Thank you so much for being with me for Part I.
Veronica: You’re welcome.