Madonna, Rosanna Arquette, Melissa Etheridge. Cindy Crawford, Courtney Love, David Duchovny and Sherilyn Fenn have something in common. According to LA Times reporter Gina Piccola (“Earth Mother, Yoga Star,” August 16, 2002) they all have been influenced by “Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa,” their yoga teacher, who is a devoted follower of “Yogi Bhajan” the founder of 3HO, the “Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization.”

But there are a few details the LA Times article left out.

3HO has been called a “cult.” Guru Jot Singh Khalsa, one of its top leaders, was indicted for RICO violations and large-scale international drug trafficking. He was sent to prison in 1988. But that did not deter the Hollywood yoga teacher, who has been an active devotee since 1971.

According to the Times Khalsa an “ex-hippie,” former “LSD” tripper, now cult follower is, “the teacher whom much of prenatal Hollywood has come to trust.”

Interestingly, Khalsa’s guru had some advice for his followers in 1974, “Your dead bodies will lie on these roads, your children will be orphans, and nobody will kick them, rather, people will eat them alive! There will be tremendous insanity. That is the time we are going to face.” So much for “baby talk.”

But in Hollywood it seems that after achieving star status, the next right of passage those serious about celebrity frequently pass through, is some sort of cult involvement. Or, it appears that many stars at least opt for a few culty classes.

Ms. Khalsa’s students are told that through “Kundalini, movements,” “special breathing,” “meditation and chanting” they can “balance the energy centers of the body and harmonize…physically, emotionally and spiritually.” Courtney Love says it’s “better than Prozac.” And with endorsements from someone like Love, how can you doubt it? Well, at least not in Hollywood.

A notorious cult group led by an alleged sexual predator is producing wine by the truckload according to the Sacramento Bee. But despite the groups long sordid history and questionable working conditions, one columnist for the effete “Wine Spectator” calls their product line “very promising.” Hey, Sadaam Hussein has some “promising” petroleum products, why not give him a plug?

The “Fellowship of Friends,” led by Robert Burton is selling wine around California and many buyers don’t seem to care that it’s produced by cult labor. Sniffed the “Wine Director” at the San Francisco Ritz Carlton, who sells the stuff at $10 per glass, “There is value and quality and I never took into consideration anything else about them.” Maybe the hotel should take advantage of the “value” provided by “quality” goods made through child labor and sweatshops?

One apparently more concerned buyer concluded, “While their quality is good, there are a lot of other wines out there and I just don’t want to work with a winery that has all that excess baggage.” Sounds like principle won out over profit with at least one businessman.

Swami Satchidananda died over this past weekend in India from natural causes. The guru, who was 87, suffered from high blood pressure and died in intensive care due to internal bleeding. An American citizen, his body is being flown back to the United States for internment within a prepared tomb at his ashram in Virginia.

Satchidananda came from India to the United States in the 60s. He eventually established his first yoga school in New York during 1966. The guru became a US citizen ten years later. The chain of schools he founded would later be known as “Integral Yoga International” (IYI).

Various celebrities were once involved with Satchidananda at one time or another, such as actors Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, artist Peter Max, diet doctor Dean Ornish and singer-songwriter Carole King. It was his devotee “Karuna” (Carole King) in 1978 who gave Satchidananda hundreds of acres in western Connecticut, which he sold in 1979 to buy land near Buckingham, Virginia that was used to create his own ashram called “Yogaville.” Yogaville became a compound for the swami’s most devoted followers and eventually the site of the so-called “Lotus Shrine” dedicated in 1986.

However, contrary to the swami’s supposed status as a celibate “Hindu monk”and despite the requirement that many of his devotees not marry and refrain from sex, Satchidananda was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1991 numerous female followers stated that he had used his role as their spiritual mentor to exploit them sexually. One of Satchidananda’s former personal secretaries and an alleged victim said, “I feel betrayed.”

After the allegations became public many devotees abandoned Satchidananda and hundreds of students left IYI schools, but the swami never admitted any wrongdoing. He instead said, “Don’t judge me, I am your guru. If you choose to believe it you can leave right now. Or, if you have faith, you can stay and continue in my service.”

Another scandal more recently rocked IYI and Yogaville in 1999. A young woman attending a “30 day program” at the ashram suddenly quit law school, dropped her fiancée and married a monk there; who was 30 years, her senior. The woman’s distraught family said she was “brainwashed.” That family later detailed their allegations publicly.

According to the guru’s ardent followers Satchidananda was “one of the most revered living Yoga Masters of our time.” However, for many he was simply a “cult leader” who left behind a legacy of personal pain. His death will no doubt create a vacuum within IYI and Yogaville. Like many cult figures Satchidananda drew followers through his personal charisma, IYI and Yogaville were largely defined by his personality.

Satchidananda also drew in millions of dollars during his long career as a guru, which was used to create a tangible legacy that includes real estate holdings and other assets. This residue of accumulated material wealth will no doubt prompt someone to eventually fill the organizational vacuum created by his death.

Who would have ever thought that a TV show from the 60s could create a subculture? The Starship Enterprise began its voyage on television in 1966 with Captain Kirk and crew, but since then Star Trek has gone on to become an International phenomenon with spin-off series, movies and mass merchandising.

Gene Roddenberry’s creation also led to an ever-expanding cult following of die-hard fans obsessively devoted to Star Trek. The most devout followers of the show are often called “Trekkies” or “Trekkers.”

Some Trekkies speak “Klingon,” many attend conventions and a few Trekkers like to wear Starship uniforms. Wil Wheaton, the actor who played teenage Wesley Crusher in the series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” warns potential visitors to Trekkie events, “If you’ve never been to a Star Trek convention before, you should rent ‘Trekkies‘ before you go…it can be a little disconcerting if you’re not prepared.”

Most Trekkers explain their fascination with Star Trek by citing the positive themes it stresses such as tolerance, loyalty, and the seemingly endless possibilities and potential of science and space. “Beam me up Scottie.”

Once upon a time there was a BBB (Bored Boston Banker) sitting in front of his computer screen surfing the Internet. He discovered that the Church of Scientology was waging war on the Worldwide Web against its critics, and he didn’t like it. So that BBB, named Bob (Robert Minton), decided to begin a personal crusade.

The multi-millionaire banker, some see as eccentric, then became fixated upon Scientology as his nemesis. He spent millions of dollars to fund lawsuits against the organization and generally dug into his deep pockets to help its critics. He even created a trust exclusively for this purpose. But Scientology, always vigilant when it comes to its perceived enemies, targeted Minton and apparently made him “Number One” on its hit list. The two foes then locked horns for years of mortal combat.

However, this saga has now come to an ironic end within a Florida courtroom. Despite years of battling with Scientology, Mr. Minton has become its star witness. He now essentially supports Scientology’s current effort to dismiss and/or undermine a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the organization, which he once financed. In an increasingly bizarre turn, Minton seems to have friendly meetings with his former foes to discuss his new role helping them.

It is said that Scientology stalked, harassed and ultimately forced Bob Minton through increasing pressure to flip and change sides. Whatever happened one thing is certain, Mr. Minton is no longer a BBB, but he probably hopes to become one again soon.

A new film “Signs” released this month with Mel Gibson is based upon a modern myth. Farmers and assorted pranksters created a virtual subculture based upon “crop circles” they created beginning in the early 80s. Some of these jokers later confessed, but a cult following developed based upon the hoax never the less.

Today despite research, which has proven the best evidence cited by believers is false; they persist in their theories about the origin of these “signs” and even network on the Internet. Some typical claims are that these crop circles are linked to UFOs, energy vortexes, ancient religious sites and an assortment of supernatural phenomenon.

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s who directed “The Sixth Sense,” based his latest movie, “Signs” upon this fanciful myth. And of course he chose the most sensational explanation, which is that crop circles are actually signposts to guide aliens from outer space. He uses this premise to put his characters through an interesting series of trials and an ultimate test of faith. The film has stimulated interest in crop circles and no doubt fueled the cult following of this contemporary mythology.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of the King, Elvis Presley. He was a man who enthralled more than one generation and became an American icon. Now a quarter century after his untimely death, his seemingly eternal fans are still fixed upon his image in homage.

Unlike destructive cults, Presley’s following is not suicidal or violent, though at times to some they may seem a bit odd. But despite their apparent euphoria, they are not “brainwashed.” Instead, they fondly remember simpler times and the music of a man who defined rock ‘n roll, before the “British Invasion.”

Elvis Presley exuded sexuality and caused controversy through the gyrating and unorthodox presentation of his music. But there was always something nice and vulnerable about him. The Elvis faithful now celebrate his memory. And it’s nice to know that cults can be benign and posit something special in society. “Don’t be cruel.”

Most media seem to be taken in by the spin and/or the spam from Falun Gong devotees. A recent example can be seen within the Jewish publication the “Forward.” Correspondent Benjamin Soskis laments that “religious groups offer little support to Chinese sect.”

But had Soskis spent more time on hard research and less on politically correct hand wringing, he would have found that Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, is both a megalomaniac and a bigot.

Sarah Lubman of the San Jose Mercury News did her homework and actually read Mr. Hongzhi’s racist rants. Li says that “mixed-race people…[are] instruments of an alien plot to destroy humanity’s link to heaven.” And that these interracial unions are somehow part of “a plot by…evil extraterrestrials.” Hongzhi appears to be homophobic too when he calls gays “disgusting,” and prophesizes that one day they will be ”eliminated” by ”the gods.”

Much of Hongzhi’s writings seem paranoid and ramble on about beings from outer space who are “embedding their technology and science in human bodies” so they can “control” humanity through “their thoughts.” This is a little like L. Ron Hubbard’s theories, which form the basis for Scientology.

Washington Post reporter Peter Carlson, like Lubman looked beyond the group’s rhetoric. He discovered that the followers of “Master Li” believe not only that he can “personally install” falun (a wheel of law) in their abdomens, but he can “levitate,” “become invisible” and knows the “top secret of the Universe.”

Canadian reporter Brian Hutchinson of the National Post, found that Falun Gong is based upon the “idea that life on Earth is doomed, that it is rotting and that it needs to be ‘rectified’ in order to proceed to the next stage of existence.” And “Master Li…has succeeded in preventing the cosmos from decomposing altogether, as other ‘higher beings’ were willing to allow.”

Hongzhi has also made this sweeping claim, “What I do today is for the purpose of rectifying humankind and the substances of the entire Earth.” This statement appears to match the hubris of Rev. Moon, founder of the Unification Church, who says he is the messiah.

Hongzhi eerily parallels the claims made by Marshall Applewhite of “Heaven’s Gate“? Like Li, Applewhite believed he was on a mission to fight against evil planetary forces. Just like Applewhite, Hongzhi sees himself in a singular and pivotal role. And he warns, “Not acknowledging the Master in the human world is not acknowledging oneself as a disciple.”

Yes, Mr. Soskis might have done a little bit more research, and then he would have better understood why, as one Jewish leader he quoted observed, “It’s hard to get [Jewish groups] to speak out on behalf of Falun Gong,”

Jeanette Walls at MSNBC reports that Oscar winner Nic Cage recently married Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley. The sole heir to the Elvis estate, was once wed to the self-proclaimed “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson. That marriage apparently tanked when Jackson rejected Scientology. Many observers said the union seemed like little more than a business arrangement. Now Cage seems set to become involved in the controversial church through his new wife.

Many in Hollywood question the influence of Scientology. Actor Wil Wheaton (Stand by Me, Star Trek) advises would-be actors, “Avoid anything that tells you they’ll give you a free book by L.Ron Hubbard. It’s a scheme to recruit you into Scientology.” Maybe veteran actor Nic Cage should now note that advice.