Organizations or groups that are personality-driven and/or essentially defined by the personality of a charismatic leader, have often been called “cults.”

However, not all cults are destructive and many over the centuries have been relatively benign.

It seems some American corporations can be seen as consumer “cults,” often driven and/or defined by their founder’s personality.

The saga of the corporate Multi-media Empire wrought by Martha Stewart appears to be one example.

This commercial kingdom is so identified and defined by its creator, it is called “Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.”

But Martha’s empire has lost half its value, since the stature of its leader began to crumble.

Would Stewart’s cult following stay loyal to the brand without the presence of her personality?

Martha Stewart is an “extreme case of this corporate cult of personality,” reports the Boston Globe.

But there are other personality-driven enterprises such as Oprah Winfey’s synergistic media holdings, which continue to thrive.

Rosie O’Donnell seemed to be embarking on the path of Oprah, until “coming out” became more important to the talk show host than being in the money.

What will be Martha Stewart’s corporate legacy if she is killed in court?

Will her magazine fold, like George did, not long after founder John F. Kennedy Jr. died?

Most cults end or slowly whither away after the leader dies or self-destructs.

There is no “Family” without Charles Manson. And groups like Synanon, Aum and the Nuwaubians faded after their leaders were prosecuted.

But it seems that if there are significant assets and an ample cash flow “cults” can continue after a founder dies.

Witness how Scientology soldiers on undaunted by L. Ron Hubbard’s death in the 80s. Its celebrity faithful like John Travolta and Tom Cruise have not lost faith and keep paying for Hubbard’s “technology.”

The die-hard followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh still watch his videos long after their leader’s demise. And they gather to honor him at the still active ashram he started in India.

But after Herbert Armstrong died his Worldwide Church of God struggled to establish a new identity. And it shrank as adherents exited. It seems without Armstrong there was no lasting loyalty.

Which historical “cult” example will Stewart’s “corporate cult of personality” parallel?

Will there be consumer fealty for “Martha Stewart Living,” if Martha is living in prison?

Her fans might move on to a less controversial and/or embattled “domestic diva.”

Martha Stewart may have taught Americans that simplicity is timeless, but it seems probable that her cult following will dwindle if she does any time.

According to one psychiatrist in California “dreams do have meaning.” But what does he mean?

David Hoffman a retired psychiatrist writes a “dear doctor” column dispensing advice and answering questions through the “La Jolla Light.” One recent column was rerun within the Mammoth Times.

After recounting his personal history Hoffman eventually answers a reader’s inquiry about the meaning of dreams. He says, “Much of my life is guided and directed by [dreams].”

But the doctor’s column really raises more questions than it answers.

Hoffman discusses his “exploration into what was called ‘New Age Psychiatry,’” which might be more objectively seen as his odyssey through the world of “cults.”

The doctor admits he has studied with “Rajneesh, Shirley McLaine, Kevin Ryerson, Edgar Cayce, Ramtha, and Yogananda.”

These controversial sources are hardly what medical doctors would typically rely upon to form any clinical opinion. And it certainly is questionable that any mental health professional would base an opinion on such specious and subjective sources.

Never-the-less Hoffman concludes, “From all that, I learned to adapt the value of dreams to my own life.”

But such statements only raise more questions.

It is understood that people seeking help from a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or professional counselor are typically at a time of personal need often also accompanied by stress, depression and/or anxiety.

This means that the patient is frequently very vulnerable and suggestible. And the helping professional occupies a position of power and influence in that person’s life during the course of their therapy/counseling.

Unfortunately, some mental health professionals may see this as an opportunity to express their personal beliefs. Perhaps even proselytizing for a certain group and/or belief system.

Thankfully this is apparently a very small minority. And exercising such an influence over a patient is most often seen as a violation of the ethical code prescribed by most State Boards and/or mental health licensing organizations.

So where then is the proper place for the practice of “New Age psychiatry”?

It seems that there would be no proper place for such a practice amongst ethical psychiatrists, who should remain objective and not project their personal beliefs into the lives of their patients.

Doctors like Hoffman may believe whatever the want, but such personal beliefs should not be passed off as part of the practice of medicine. That is, unless you are a “witch doctor.”

According to one psychiatrist in California “dreams do have meaning.” But what does he mean?

David Hoffman a retired psychiatrist writes a “dear doctor” column dispensing advice and answering questions through the “La Jolla Light.” One recent column was rerun within the Mammoth Times.

After recounting his personal history Hoffman eventually answers a reader’s inquiry about the meaning of dreams. He says, “Much of my life is guided and directed by [dreams].”

But the doctor’s column really raises more questions than it answers.

Hoffman discusses his “exploration into what was called ‘New Age Psychiatry,’” which might be more objectively seen as his odyssey through the world of “cults.”

The doctor admits he has studied with “Rajneesh, Shirley McLaine, Kevin Ryerson, Edgar Cayce, Ramtha, and Yogananda.”

These controversial sources are hardly what medical doctors would typically rely upon to form any clinical opinion. And it certainly is questionable that any mental health professional would base an opinion on such specious and subjective and sources.

Never-the-less Hoffman concludes, “From all that, I learned to adapt the value of dreams to my own life.”

But such statements only raise more questions.

It is understood that people seeking help from a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or professional counselor are typically at a time of personal need often also accompanied by stress, depression and/or anxiety.

This means that the patient is frequently very vulnerable and suggestible. And the helping professional occupies a position of power and influence in that person’s life during the course of their therapy/counseling.

Unfortunately, some mental health professionals may see this as an opportunity to express their personal beliefs. Perhaps even proselytizing for a certain group and/or belief system.

Thankfully this is apparently a very small minority. And exercising such an influence over a patient is most often seen as a violation of the ethical code prescribed by most State Boards and/or mental health licensing organizations.

So where then is the proper place for the practice of “New Age psychiatry”?

It seems that there would be no proper place for such a practice amongst ethical psychiatrists, who should remain objective and not project their personal beliefs into the lives of their patients.

Doctors like Hoffman may believe whatever the want, but such personal beliefs should not be passed off as part of the practice of medicine. That is, unless you are a “witch doctor.”

In India police are cracking down on “God men,” reports The Telegraph.

Authorities in Calcutta are warning residents to beware of the gurus and swamis who say they have “supernatural powers” and can effect mystical or magical cures.

One police commissioner said, “We will do everything to guard Calcuttans from the clutches of such swindlers.” He added that they frequently prey upon the sick who are in a “vulnerable state.”

Will this crack down eventually include more established Indian gurus such as Sai Baba, who supposedly possesses “supernatural powers”?

Probably not.

But at least in India some attention is being paid to this issue.

In sharp contrast within the United States “God men” like Brooklyn born Frank Jones, who calls himself “Adi Da,” most often operate with impunity.

And then there is the lucrative “faith healing” business, which supports apparent posers such as the popular Benny Hinn. Hinn lives lavishly off of the millions contributed by his faithful, that believe “cures” come from heaven during his crusades.

Does America need a crack down? There certainly seems to be plenty of gullibility on this side of the globe.

American showman P.T. Barnum once claimed that “people like to be humbugged.” And he was attributed incorrectly, as the originator of the old adage; “A sucker is born every minute.”

But despite such observations Westerners often suppose smugly that they are somehow less susceptible to spiritual hucksters, than say people in Calcutta.

However, the facts don’t support such an arrogant conclusion. There seem to be plenty of suckers ready to buy or believe almost anything in America.

Historically, many Indian gurus and swamis sensed this and moved to the United States. Swami Satchidananda, Yogi Bhajan and Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh are three examples of such migrating “God men” who marketed their “supernatural powers” in the United States.

Books have been written about the “vulnerable state” of many Western spiritual seekers visiting India such as Karma Cola by Gita Mehta. And the more common category of largely domestic seekers is examined in The Faith Healers by James Randi.

Some say that dictator Kim Jong Il, known as the “Great Leader” to North Koreans, is little more than a “cult leader.” They point out the way he has systematically “brainwashed” his people and controls Korean society.

Well, like many historical cult leaders he also seems to have a penchant for living the good life, through the exploitation of followers.

While the people of North Korea remain largely impoverished and often go hungry Kim lives lavishly.

Newsweek (January 13, 2003) reported that the “Great Leader” is having a good time, while the world fears what he may do next.

On a special train ride through Russia Kim brought along his two armored Mercedes and told his host about the girls in Paris nightclubs. Later his beautiful female staff serenaded him. His beverage preferences for the trip were Bordeaux, Burgundy and Hennesy Paradis cognac at $650.00 per bottle. He consumed 20 course dinners.

Kim ordered 200 Class S Mercedes in 1998 for a total cost of $20 million. This beats Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who ended up with just 90 Rolls Royces, by the time he was deported from the US.

Kim has also imported pizza ovens and two Milanese chefs to teach his staff how to make pizzas. And he doesn’t like anchovies.

Where does all the money to pay for this come from?

Kim uses slave labor to mine gold in North Korea. And he reportedly has stashed away billions in Switzerland. The dictator also has a villa in Geneva as well as five other mansions in Europe.

In the end it seems that all that this “Great Leader” really represents, is a “Great Rip-off.”

Phyllis McCarthy was once a leader at an Oregon cult compound called “Rancho Rajneesh,” where she was known as “Ma Yoga Vidya.” Now “Ma” is a “psychotherapist” in South Africa.

But the former follower of deceased guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had to face her past this week in an Oregon courtroom as part of a deal she struck with prosecutors, reports The Oregonian.

McCarthy will begin serving a one-year sentence next month for her role in a murder conspiracy to assassinate a government official. It seems she will be the last “Rajneeshie” to face justice, a notorious cult that terrorized Oregonians during the 80s.

Maybe this is a year for tying the loose ends of old cults?

Last month “Sybionese Liberation Army” (SLA) members were in court too. Fugitives from that 70s cult entered into plea bargains much like McCarthy in exchange for light sentences. One member of the SLA was also hiding in South Africa.

McCarthy, like former SLA members, appears to regret her past. She said, “My trust in people and my sense of loyalty was my weakness.” Referring to the trust she placed in her dead guru and his top lieutenant and enforcer “Ma Sheela.”

However, when cult members commit crimes that threaten the safety of others, misplaced trust is not a very viable legal defense. And in cases where innocent lives have been lost, hard time behind bars is frequently the outcome. Charles Manson’s followers found that out.

Fortunately for McCarthy she never completed the murder plot. But her intended victim wasn’t so forgiving. He said her sentence was “laughable.”

What’s not “laughable” is that Rajneesh or “Osho” as he is now often called, still has followers, who unlike McCarthy have never ceased in their devotion to the guru. Despite the revelations about his crimes the guru’s old ashram in India has become something of a shrine.

Apparently, to these die-hard devotees such loyalty is not a “weakness.”

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh also called “Osho” by his devotees was thrown out of the United States in 1985 after spending time in jail and paying a $400,000 fine for immigration fraud. He then wandered around the world trying to find some country that would allow him entry. Finally, after repeated rejections he returned to his native India where he died in 1990.

Rajneesh became infamous for his personal excesses and villainy in the United States. He collected 90 Rolls Royces and numerous women devoted to his sexual pleasure. Thousands of followers joined him in an effort to create a supposed spiritual utopia amidst 64,000 acres in Oregon called “Rancho Rajneesh.”

Eventually, Rajneesh tried to impose his rule over the nearby town of Antelope. His effort ultimately led to criminal acts and then later the convictions and imprisonment of many devoted followers. More than 20 cult members were indicted on criminal charges including a plot to murder a prosecutor.

But back in Pune India the old “guru” is fondly remembered by his remaining followers called “sanyasin.” The old ashram he founded is still standing and is now being renovated, reports the Times of India.

Memories associated with the dead cult leader are so sacred to some sanyasin that an effort to replace his old crumbling meeting hall was met with opposition. One devotee said, “The podium and the floor should not be allowed to be demolished at any cost.” And insisted, “Something must be done to protect it.”

It seems the place where Rajneesh once held court still holds some mystical or sacred significance to those who choose to call him a “enlightened self-realized soul,” rather than a destructive cult leader.

However, back in Antelope, Oregon where Rajneesh tried to poison people with salmonella and sickened about 750 residents, the only remaining residue of his rule that still remains is a small plaque at the base of the post-office flagpole. It says, “Dedicated to those of this community who through the Rajneesh invasion and occupation of 1981-85 remained, resisted and remembered.”

This is the only fitting epitaph or legacy that the cult leader really deserves.

The burgeoning growth industry of self-improvement within the United States continues to include exotic spiritual mentors. And India has been a fount for a litany of purported “gurus,” “swamis,” “yogis” and other would-be “god-men” that have enthralled Americans.

But in India such supposedly “spiritual” types are increasingly seen as simply tricksters or confidence men. And the police in Bombay are busting them, reports Reuters.

One Indian official who has exposed more than a few explained, “[Our] campaign is meant to be an eye-opener. We want to put a complete stop to those posing as god-men.”

But in the United States the First Amendment precludes putting a “complete stop” to any “religious” endeavor. So many of the “god-men” of India have immigrated to a more open market. After all, why work Bombay when you can come to America and make the big bucks?

Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are willing to buy the wares of these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too.

The list of such spiritual entrepreneurs keeps growing.

There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget the notorious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died.

A new female “guru” is breaking into the American market named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.

Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown flim flam, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. And American authorities are often far less vigilant than their Indian counterparts, when it comes to protecting the public.

Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that exicites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into that market, or that is, turn on the tap to cash in.

The historic success of Indian gurus in the US seems to have inspired a growing list of American wannabes that have taken on Indian names and titles.

Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few.

Some of the “god-men” have turned out to have feet of clay. There have been several scandals and a few lawsuits regarding sexual misconduct and other allegations.

The old consumer adage “buyer beware” seems to be equally appropriate advice within the spiritual marketplace.

One Indian activist intent upon exposing “god-men” as simply con-men said, “It’s easy money — without any investment. As long as fear exists among people such god-men will thrive.”