NZ Skeptics Newsletter
Read this in your browser

Misfire and Fury?

It’s me again, Mark, for a third week running - as Craig is unavailable to do the newsletter again. This time it’s COVID, and I can’t blame him at all for not wanting to write a newsletter while getting over it.

In this week’s newsletter, I start off talking about an amazing documentary about Gloriavale that I went to see with Bronwyn and another couple of skeptics on the weekend. It’s called simply “Gloriavale”, and I’d recommend watching it if you have a fascination for these kinds of religious groups like I do.

Daniel Ryan has a piece this week that he wrote a while ago and thought would be of interest to skeptics, about acupuncture and ACC. If you find that it makes your blood boil, I can recommend sticking needles in Governing Vessel Point GV20, Spleen Channel SP6 and your LU5 Sedation Point to help calm you down.

I had a listen to NASA’s recent teleconference about their plans to look into UFO sightings. It seems that NASA don’t really think that aliens are visiting us, but I do have my suspicions about why they’ve decided to publicly launch this new study - read below to find out more.

Finally we have part two of Bronwyn’s look into Highden Manor, where she goes even deeper down the rabbit hole.

Your homework for this week is to watch the new Stuff documentary about the key players in the New Zealand conspiracy scene, called Fire and Fury. Craig will have more to say about it next week, so if you’ve watched it he’ll make a lot more sense to you. If you watch it you’ll likely recognise a lot of the names at the start of the documentary, as we’ve been talking about them and their weird beliefs here in this newsletter. Damien De Ment, Chantelle Baker, Claire Deeks et al, Carlene Hereora (known on Facebook as Carlene Louise), Kelvyn Alp and Hannah Spierer, Amy Benjamin and Kyle Chapman have all been featured here in the past.

For bonus marks you can watch the episode of Counterspin that Kelvyn and Hannah put together last night titled “Deep State Hit Piece Misfires”, featuring Carlene, Kyle, Damien and Amy. Hopefully it’ll be online in their video catalogue soon (which, as I mentioned last week, is now hosted on Alex Jones’ Infowars video platform). It’ll come as no surprise to hear that pretty much everyone on the show doubled down on the kinds of things they had been exposed as having said in the past, like threatening to execute MPs, as well as reiterating many of the silly beliefs they have that we have been shining a light on in this newsletter, such as Satanic Ritual Abuse, the vaccine being a bioweapon, and more.

Mark Honeychurch

In this week's newsletter

I highly recommend Gloriavale

By which I mean I recommend watching a new documentary called “Gloriavale”, which focuses on the infamous religious group. I most definitely don’t recommend converting to their religion and moving to the Gloriavale compound on the South Island. I went to a Film Festival viewing of the documentary yesterday, before general release to cinemas next week, and there was also a fascinating Question and Answer session afterwards with some of the filmmakers and subjects of the documentary. Here’s the trailer:
For those who don’t know about Gloriavale, it was started in 1969 by an Australian man called Neville Cooper, who renamed himself Hopeful Christian. The group setup on the South island, and are currently around 600 strong and living on a large piece of land near Greymouth. The group is very isolated and insular, teaching a strict version of Christianity and an absolute obedience to their leadership, including control over people’s finances, relationships and even what they wear. Because the group has been around for so long now, most of the members were born into the group and have never known a life outside of Gloriavale.
Hopeful Christian with some of his faithful flock

The documentary focuses on legal efforts to effect change in Gloriavale from outside, involving ex-members, and some very brave current members who risk being shunned by their community, to help bring change about by being witnesses in hearings. Through this focus, the documentary shines a light on just how bad it can be for people living in Gloriavale.

For ex members, those who either choose to leave or are kicked out, they find themselves disconnected from their families. This is a common tactic used by many of the stricter religious groups in the world - using the threat of being unable to see your family to try to keep people inside the group, or bring them back into the fold. It’s used extensively by Scientology, the Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is also used sometimes by religious groups such as Orthodox Judaism and Bahai.

One of the lawyers helping ex-members believes that the conditions the women at Gloriavale find themselves in is a form of modern day slavery. Women often get out of bed way before dawn to start working, and work through until late in the evening. They are told that they need to work these long hours because that is what God requires of them, and that they must trust the male leadership of the group who decide what God wants of everyone.

Most people in the group live communally, with buildings that have communal living areas and large bedrooms. Families are usually assigned a single bedroom inside one of these communal buildings - and this looks to be pretty cramped, as the commune promotes having lots of children.

The community has always suffered from an issue of sexual abuse of children, again as is the case with many tight-knit religious groups. In this case the problem goes back to their founder, Hopeful Christian, who was jailed for abuse back in 1995. Apparently in Gloriavale this communal living has led to the problem being exacerbated - as anyone is free to walk into any of the living quarters, and because the women are often busy elsewhere working, those who have been abusing children in the community have easy access to children.

It’s interesting to see the tactic used by the lawyers in the documentary, of trying any avenue they can think of to expose the awful conditions for those living in this community - bringing lawsuits based on human rights, employment law, financial regulations, etc. One thing that the question and answer session after the documentary made clear was that the government is reluctant to do anything about the issue. I can only presume that this is part of a wider reluctance to be seen meddling in people’s religious lives - it’s not a good look when an election is coming up to be upsetting part of your voter base.

Although I accept that people’s own beliefs are their own business, when those beliefs mean restricting the rights of others I think the government should step in to protect those who are vulnerable. And in this case the vulnerable are hundreds of young people who have never known anything except for poor living conditions, strict rules of behaviour, long working hours, and an almost total lack of liberty - all controlled by a few old white men, known as “shepherds”.

I’d highly recommend watching this documentary, as it’s fascinating to see the current efforts going on to help those who are trapped in an oppressive, abusive cult. Sadly many of them don’t even realise that their lives could be much better, as this is all they’ve known. The Gloriavale Leavers Trust is doing great work to help those who have left and those who are still inside, as well as trying to make the public more aware of just how bad the situation is.

I had a chat with one of the Trust members after the showing, and we’re hoping to get someone to come and talk with us at our Skeptics conference this year - it’ll be interesting to hear more about the difficulties people face when leaving a place like Gloriavale, and slowly coming to grips with the fact that what they have believed for so long is a lie.

I’d suggest getting some background information on Gloriavale before watching the documentary if you don’t already know much about them - the Wikipedia page is well written, and there are also a few TV documentaries that have been made about Gloriavale that you can find online, although some of them are a bit of a whitewash so I’d suggest watching them with a critical eye. After all, Gloriavale is well known as a group that’s able to put on a smiling face when outsiders come in to watch them, especially for camera crews and events like their annual open days.

Acupuncturists taking advantage of ACC claims

Daniel Ryan

One of the more controversial treatments the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) currently pays out for is acupuncture. This is controversial partly because of the lack of clinical evidence for acupuncture’s efficacy, a fact that ACC has admitted in a past meeting.

In the case of acupuncture, there is a common-sense restriction that practitioners cannot diagnose patients and make ACC claims. Only qualified health providers are able to do this, and with good reason. Many acupuncturists, including New Zealand’s regulatory bodies, believe that sticking needles into someone to realign their flow of “Qi” can treat pretty much any medical condition under the sun.

Once ACC approves a claim, a patient is free to claim for up to 12 (this was 16 last year) acupuncture sessions. It is not necessary to be referred for these services; a patient is free to ignore their health provider’s advice, along with science’s current understanding that acupuncture does not work, and instead choose to visit an acupuncturist to treat their injury.

Acupuncturists are able to pick and choose which of the ACC-covered injuries they want to treat and how to treat them - all a patient needs for this is the ACC claim number for their injury, supplied to them by a qualified healthcare professional. For example, The Acupuncture Clinic in Masterton discusses a scenario where treatment of Post Concussion Syndrome (mild traumatic brain injury) with acupuncture is covered under ACC. The Nelson Shinkyu Acupuncture Clinic tells its patients that both Japanese stomach diagnosis and tongue diagnosis (a method of diagnosing diseases by visual inspection of the tongue) are covered under ACC - even though acupuncturists shouldn’t be diagnosing patients under ACC cover.

One of acupuncture’s two regulatory bodies, Acupuncture NZ, does little to remind its members of the limits of what they can treat:

"Because Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is a complete health care system, there is very little that does not benefit from a course of acupuncture, herbal medicine or a combination of both."

Now that the Chinese medicine profession is under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (HPCA) Act, the newly formed Chinese Medicine Council will soon take responsibility for acupuncture. It’s unknown if this will help legitimise acupuncture and increase pseudoscientific spending by the government.

Interestingly, it appears that some acupuncturists have found a creative way to minimise the onus of the ACC limitation where they can’t submit a claim form. By hiring registered nurses, physiotherapists and osteopaths, some businesses can now have their staff submit an ACC claim without the patient needing to visit a doctor. Newtown Acupuncture provides an in-house nurse who can register injuries with ACC. Physio Absolute, Axon Physio & Acupuncture and Body Logic allow you to visit their in-house physiotherapist or osteopath who will register your injury with ACC.

Many acupuncturists work under physiotherapists, chiropractors or osteopaths - all of whom are able to submit an ACC claim, which the acupuncturist can then use to subsidise a patient’s visit. This is often advertised with words like “no referrals needed” or “no GP referral required”.

Given the lack of good quality evidence for acupuncture, there are important questions to be asked about whether the government should be paying money for it. Simply following evidence-based recommendations would substantially reduce the government’s nearly $50 million yearly spending on unproven acupuncture treatments - money that, especially in the current economic climate, would be better spent elsewhere.
Help us out - Become a Member

NASA to investigate UAPs - what are they, and are they real?

NASA recently held a press teleconference where they announced that they will be investigating UAPs - Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. This is a new term being used instead of UFOs, given that UFO suffers from both not being very descriptive (Unidentified things people see in the sky might not be Flying, and they might not be Objects - planets, clouds and aurora are often mistakenly thought to be mysterious objects, but none of them are flying; and the Northern and Southern aurora aren’t objects, just cool light shows caused by solar particles), and having a lot of baggage attached to it - when people read UFO, they instantly think aliens. Here’s NASA announcing their project:

Of course, many people think that this is vindication of the idea that aliens are not only real, but they’re also visiting us - organising fly-bys at night, abducting people and cows, and implanting us with alien microchips. But when we look with a skeptical eye at this idea, it quickly falls apart. I often like to look at a) the plausibility and b) the evidence for an extraordinary claim, and in this case both are flimsy at best.

Firstly, the plausibility of aliens visiting earth is pretty low...

I accept that it’s plausible, maybe even likely, that there are aliens out there in the universe right now. Astrophysicist Frank Drake created what’s known as the Drake Equation, which is a simple multiplication of numbers, such as the number of stars in an average galaxy and the number of galaxies in the known universe, and probabilities, like the probability of a star having a habitable planet. There’s a lot of guesswork still in some of the numbers, but the upshot is that it’s perfectly acceptable to believe that there will be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe at this point in time.

However, from everything we know of physics and astronomy, it’s very, very unlikely that any life elsewhere in the universe would know we exist, and if they did that they would be able to travel the huge distances involved between stars to get here. Star Trek, Star Wars and most other science fiction has been lying to you - there’s never going to be a warp drive, hyperdrive or any other way of travelling faster than light. And despite what some popular science books might tell you about how Einstein-Rosen bridges (wormholes) could be used for interstellar travel, it seems unlikely that these currently theoretical constructs could ever be used in a practical way to travel long distances. And sadly, in the real world even getting to 1% of the speed of light would be a massive feat of engineering (the current fastest man-made object in space is unmanned, and travelling at 0.05% of the speed of light).

At 1% of the speed of light, travelling from our closest star (4 light years away) would take 400 years - in what’s known as a generation ship, where the ship would have to be capable of being totally self sufficient (another massive technical feat) and allow its inhabitants to live as a community for generations - whoever’s on board at the start of the journey would be long dead by the time their great great great, etc grandchildren arrive at their destination. And, of course, that is only for the nearest star, which is unlikely to have planets with intelligent life. The Drake Equation tells us that it’s more likely the closest planets with intelligent life will be thousands of light years away in our galaxy. And, if life is rare enough that it would be in another galaxy, that’s another huge hurdle - as the distances between galaxies are mind boggling. Our galaxy is around 100,000 light years across, but it’s about 3 million light years to our nearest decently sized neighbour - Andromeda.

Secondly, the evidence for UFOs is not great either...

As part of a COVID Relief bill, Donald Trump signed into law legislation that forced the Department of Defence to release a report on all the unidentified sightings it had amassed over the years. This report, and the videos it contained, led to a flurry of activity where people who think aliens are all around us somehow managed to be featured on US news shows as “experts”. These experts made all sorts of fantastical claims about how video footage was evidence of advanced technology in the skies that couldn’t possibly have been made by humans.

However, these videos have already been debunked online. Several YouTubers have taken on the task of figuring out what can explain the sightings in some of the most “compelling” videos. And the explanations are both believable and mundane - the main culprits include birds, clouds and aeroplanes, as well as some lens flare and other tricks of the light.

So, what have NASA said they’re going to get from this study? Well, in the teleconference they claim that maybe they’ll learn some new scientific phenomena. This seems unlikely, but I can accept that there’s a possibility some of the recorded anomalous sightings could be caused by a natural process we don’t yet understand - maybe an undiscovered way that light might bounce off a cloud, for example. They also say that they may learn about advanced technology being used by other countries. This I find less believable, as I’m pretty sure the DoD will be much better placed than NASA to figure out if any of the videos contain evidence of other countries’ advanced military hardware.

My thought is that NASA’s reason for doing this is probably not because they think there’s any merit to claims of UFO (or UAP) sightings, or even that there’s something valuable to be learned from the kinds of sightings that have been collected. I’m guessing that NASA’s not going to make any friends by just ignoring the recent public interest in UFOs and hoping it goes away. Instead, if they’re seen to be treating it seriously, they can say that they aren’t ignoring the evidence - they’re not just being armchair skeptics and dismissing people’s concerns that the truth is being hidden from them. The fact that NASA - a $25 billion a year organisation - has committed “up to” $100,000 to this project, suggests that it’s not something they’re taking too seriously.

Having listened to the three capable scientists in the press meeting talking about what they’re planning to do, and how they’re planning to be scientific and methodical, I’m pretty sure that if this initial study ends up with any actual research being done, they’re going to conclude that none of the UAP evidence that’s out there is evidence of E.T. visiting us. They’ll likely just show how there are perfectly rational and terrestrial explanations for what’s in the videos. Dr Thomas Z (Zurbuchen) made a really good point about how the scientific method is the best tool we have for looking at questions like this one, as well as many others:

“One of the outcomes of the study for me would be to communicate to everybody that the science process is a valid process for any and all problems, including that one… These kinds of processes that have proven to be so transformative for how we understand our universe are very much useful including for those problems”

One thing that stood out in the conference was the great pains that everyone went to to claim that they haven’t been pressured by NASA’s current administrator, the man at the top, Bill Nelson. Given that Bill Nelson has previously talked to the media about how he believes some UFO sightings may be evidence of alien visitors, and also somehow squeezed Jesus into a speech he gave when the James Webb telescope was launched, I’m wondering if maybe he’s had some influence over this, despite the proactive denials.

As well as being confident NASA will conclude the evidence that’s out there doesn’t prove aliens are here, I’m also confident that the UFO community will respond by putting their fingers in their ears and saying “Na na na na, I can’t hear you”, and continuing to claim that pictures of dustbin lids thrown into the air are evidence that UFOs are real.

Join us online every month at

Skeptics in Cyberspace

In the shadows of the (Highden) Temple

Bronwyn Rideout

How the jewel of the Manawatū became a modern-day mystery school and the controversy currently embroiling its association with the International School of the Temple Arts.


Part 2

Before you read further, I want to make it clear that this article is in no way an indictment about the sexual activities of consenting adults, or casting any aspersions or judgement on sex work. Instead, I am taking a surface view of some current controversies where the absence of effective mechanisms to address accusations levelled at ISTA are embedded in its foundation.

In this instalment I pick up with the next transition in the life of Highden Manor, with Bruce Lyon’s vision of an esoteric, new age residential magic school having gone belly up, and the owner/cancer quack Finn Andersen keen to offload the property. 

But before we move forward, we need to circle back to the dogma that underpinned the Shamballa school, and the non-”academic” activities that were occurring while class was in session.

Despite the name, the school’s connection to Shambala Buddhism, a fairly recent and controversial branch of Vajrayāna Buddhism, is never explicit - but some overlap is evident. The most obvious one is the placement of 28 mandala stones around the campus.

Left: Mandala Stone at High Den; Right: Blueprint of mandala stone arrangement at Highden

Another borrowed element that is only evident once you look deeper into Lyon’s output is the practice of transmission. Of course, references to Trans-Himalayan Teachings are not referring to the aforementioned Buddhist tradition, but instead refer to theosophy and the work of Helena Blavatsky and Alice A. Bailey. Both women claimed that they received telepathic transmissions from one Djwhal Khul, a Tibertan disciple of the Ageless Wisdom tradition and part of a brotherhood that was the origin of all the world’s philosophies and traditions. According to Jon Darrall-Rew, Khul’s transmissions with Blavatsky and Bailey were the first two of three phases which “...embody a continually unfolding revelation concerning the deepest mysteries of Reality, kosmos, the earth and humanity”. The third phase of Khul’s teachings are said to emerge in 2025, when all ascended masters, saints, and other enlightened beings will gather and eventually function openly and visibly on earth; this will apparently lead to significant changes in humanity for the coming centuries.

But…but…but…preparatory teachings would emerge earlier than that. And, lo and behold, Bruce Lyon was the man for the job, collaborating telepathically with Khul from 2000 to 2005. Lyon compiled these transmissions into several books, the first of which can be read here.

Now that we’ve rounded out the past a bit, we can now move forward to the future…

The School Down Under! Years

In a transcript of a talk given by Suchitra Davenport, ownership of Highden was called into question at the end of the 2nd year of the Shamballa school, likely in early 2003. Davenport writes that this created a crisis for the core group. Fortunately two educators from the United States, Kent Ferguson and Wendlin Wagner, were interested in purchasing Highden as a boarding house for their high school study abroad programme called the School Down Under (SDU). While Davenport marvels at the sympatico goals of the Shamballa school and the School Down Under, a saved version of the School Down Under’s website plays it very safe by describing the manor as the home of a small philosophy institute.

Ferguson had over three decades of experience as an educator, including 25 years as Headmaster of the Santa Barbara Middle School where he emphasised students’ spiritual development by incorporating indigenous traditions and mythology. It appears he brought a similar outlook to SDU, albeit with a more Māori perspective, and balanced academics like practical geometry, biology, and history with a combination of esoteric and traditional after-school activities.

Under the name Fireseed LLC, Ferguson purchased Highden for $1.6 million from Finn Andersen. Under the initial application, Ferguson proposed that the property would be leased to provide outdoor education to international students for one session (20 weeks) each year, while also making the property available for events and private functions. And it seems that SDU and the Shamballa School co-existed on October 26th, 2003, with Davenport teaching an extracurricular class or two to students. Ferguson owned the property until 2008 or 2009, though operation of SDU seems to have stopped prior to that, and the property was on the market for three years. In March 2017, Isaac Davison of the NZ Herald wrote about ten foreign investors who were forced to surrender sensitive land in NZ in the last decade after failing to meet the conditions of their purchase, causing ire in the Winston Peters camp. Under the Official Information Act, Fireseed LLC was found to be one of the foriegn investors named.

The Shamballa school became an online entity for the time being, while Bruce’s wife Sharon operated a cafe on site for a period; the couple finally left the property by mid-2007.

To the manor born! A break from magic, and back to business as a B&B

Avril Drucker and Andrew Michaels purchased Highden on December 18th, 2008 and moved in by the end of January 2009. Together the couple had experience in food service, building and renovating high-end properties, fashion, and interior design. They commenced an 8 month renovation project and started to reestablish Highden as a destination venue. By the end of 2010, Highden was back in the news in another Overseas Investment Office bust-up involving actual Buddhists. The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is a branch of Buddhism that is opposed to the Dalai Lama, and intended to use Highden as a multi-use venue including a national centre for Buddhist study, a visitor centre, and as a spiritual base. While not on the market, NKT approached the couple with their interest in purchasing the estate soon after it opened, and their history at the time indicated that they were good for the money as they had a portfolio of high-profile and historic properties. With contracts signed and pending Overseas Investment Office approval, NKT withdrew its offer in August 2010 with indications that it was unable to meet some of the contract conditions. This was financially damaging for the current owners, due to the loss of revenue from missing the summer wedding season. Drucker and Michaels sued NKT for the difference between what the initial settlement was and the current value, as the property market had fallen by August 2010. 

They were awarded a $1.08 million in a court settlement, and continued to own and operate Highden for several more years until returning it to the market at the end of January 2016.

Becoming buddies with Baba 

2006-2007 was a weird time for Robert Nichols; his girlfriend left him, and his subsequent spiraling was captured for posterity on celluloid in the documentary Sex Magic: Manifesting Maya.

But, as the title suggests, there is more to the film than middle-aged pining.

Nichols, better known as Baba Dez, is a public figure, writer, and musician who teaches spiritual sexual healing with a heavy side of shamanism. His style is described by some as “neotantra”. For readers who are unfamiliar, neotantra is a western misinterpretation and appropriation of Tantra that hyperfocuses on spiritual sex or sacred sexuality. As the documentary demonstrated, how Dez goes about his practice is controversial even amongst fellow practitioners, and there have been incidents where he has crossed the line.

Dez originally made his fortune selling supplements, and after selling his business and retiring briefly in his 40s, he founded the Sedona Temple in Sedona, Arizona in 2002. Despite the efforts of Wikipedia editors to make Sedona sound as normie as possible, it is a hotspot for spiritual, wellness, and UFO aficionados alike; if you know where to look, it becomes obvious that the Sedona Tourism board knows where its bread is buttered. That may explain why Nichols’ midlife pivot, and his vision for his temple, were much sexier and more emotional than the relatively more academic magic of Lyon. The Sedona Temple was not only Dez’s home and base of operation, but other similar minded practitioners were also able to rent out rooms in return for a commission.

2007 was also the start of what would become Dez’s second business success: The International School of Temple Arts (ISTA). ISTA facilitates workshops and gatherings on sexual shamanism and sexual healing, and through the format of a modern mystery school empowers its students by addressing relational and sexual dysfunction and trauma. The first offering was a week-long course called Daka/Dakini Training, which would become the rather silly Spiritual Sexual Shamanic Experience (SSSEx). As Dez took his teachings worldwide, he met other like-minded people, and in 2009 would cross paths with Bruce Lyon.

In 2010, Bruce moved deeper into the ISTA orbit due to his growing interest in incorporating sexuality and emotion into his work. 2011 was, according to Dez’s bio, a turning point for Lyon’s role in ISTA. Not only did Bruce join the faculty, he was also able to bring his business acumen into the redevelopment of the business structure and leadership of ISTA. Dez wanted to move away from being the perpetual leader or ‘guru’, and desired a self-governing, non-hierarchical organism that didn’t get bogged down with consensus. The idea was that while organisers and teachers are compensated for their time, there are no shareholders and no copyright as everything belongs to humanity. To a degree, this was seen as offering independence for faculty to organise events themselves, and it could be said that this decision decentralised ISTA - both literally and figuratively; a move that was good in the immediate sense, but problematic in the long term.

ISTA headquarters was initially co-located in Dez’s Sedona Temple, but as that branch of Dez’s life expanded, the Sedona Temple officially separated operations from ISTA in 2011 and established its status as a church in June of that year. However, the operations of the Sedona Temple were not viewed favourably by neighbours, and the city made their zoning process difficult. In order to recoup the costs incurred from the bureaucratic side of that venture, the temple leased space to the Phoenix Goddess Temple, who unbeknownst to the Sedona Temple were under investigation by authorities. In September 2011, the Sedona Temple premises was raided by local police seeking members of the Goddess Temple on charges of prostitution and operating a brothel.

Bruce and Baba’s partnership continued to be productive. Bruce became lead faculty of ISTA in 2012, and in the same year they developed and introduced a second level to the Spirirtual Shaman course: Level 2 Spiritual Sexual Shamanic Initiation (SSSIn) Training.

It was truly a match made in pun hell.

The two then developed the week-long NZ Next Generation Teacher Trainings in 2012, which then merged with an apprenticeship program that Baba was already running at the Sedona Temple. This became known as the final course, Level 3 SSSEed (Spiritual Sexual Shamanic Seeding). Lyon’s role in the faculty and governance of ISTA evolved over the next few years, and would culminate in a triumphant return, of sorts, in 2017.

Bringing the magic back to Highden

In 2016, Highden was back on the market. The Shamballa school was still ticking along in its online form but, for whatever reason, Lyon decided that it was time to buy the property for keeps. The purchase price was $2.4 million and, in his own words, Lyon signed a purchase agreement based on the verbal support of Baba Dez and a third party. When the third man backed out, Lyon posted a plea for funds on Facebook for $800,000 on February 23rd, 2017. While the standard loans and monetary gifts were accepted, there was also the option to join the project as an investor, or pillar, of the temple. Initially, he sought 12 investors at $250,000 each (yes, the total is more than $800,000. The extra money would be invested in the property).

Below is the initial plea for financial support from Facebook:

Beloveds I need your help. I am opening out in trust. i need your help and i need your love. Specifically I need your love-as-money.

I signed the purchase agreement on Highden based on the verbal support of two of my soul brothers - Dez and another friend . I wanted the money flowing into the project to be coming from the centre of love, trust, freedom and commitment. I wanted it to be solid in the core so that when others wanted to join they could feel the security of it being underwritten by those who had the capacity, the will and the love. Highden is to be a place of love and freedom. A Temple for the new era. It can't be founded on old values and structures. Yesterday i learned that the third person has hit significant turbulence in their affairs and can’t proceed with the project. I began the process of looking at a back up plan with bank funding and everything in me started to contract. I don’t want to be borrowing from banks. So I am turning out to my tribe. I am all in here. This is my stand for the temples. I’m willing to put all my available resources - close to a million dollars in to the project. I am unconditional and i love it. Dez, too is fully in and it feels so great to stand together on this ride. We know we are not alone in wanting there to be places where the sex and spirit, soul and body, the personal and universal can dance together in love and freedom. Places where the life force is activated and fully lived. Settlement is May 1 and i am about to go on an extensive trip to India, Bali, Guatemala and Brazil before coming back to ground at Highden. I don’t have the space or the capacity for prolonged discussion with banks and lawyers. i trust myself. i trust love. i trust god/goddess and the wave of awakening that is moving through humanity. i trust you. Please feel into your heart if this calls to you and come back to me directly.

Here’s what we need to settle - $800,000 NZ. -

Here are some of the ways you could help if you are so called.

1. Unconditional gifts are always appreciated and result in energetic effects ten times their monetary value.
2. Loan us some funds - just short term to get through the settlement - six months max.. Bank interest is so paltry these days. If we have to borrow we’d much rather it came with love and we paid interest with love. As a man of integrity and of resources, inner and outer I give you my word you will get it all back. I think my word is more secure than most banks these days.
3. Join the Project as an investor. Be a pillar of the temple. We are going to do something really good for humanity and the planet. We are going to have fun doing it. We are going to generate a lot of resources so we can do it again….and again. The purchase price is $2.4m. We want 12 partners @ $250,000 NZ to give us $3m - the extra money over set up expenses will be used to develop the property further. There is enormous potential. There are many who have expressed some interest and now we need some certainty.

One of the key pieces of work we have both been doing in the last decade is restoring the relationship between sexuality and spirituality so that our collective erotic life is integrated and helps power, ground and manifest love. Money is another key energy that is linked to the sacral centre and sexuality. in most people and on the planet in general it is still controlled by survival fears and desires. The liberation of money so that it truly serves love is ahead of us. The immense surge of life force energy that comes when we release our contractions and open to the abundance that is all around us is awesome. I am feeling some of it now. My money, like my sex and my heart and my mind is not truly ‘mine’ at all. It belongs to the ocean of life out of which it springs. I give it back in gratitude and experience the grace. This does not mean I am naive. I know how precious money dedicated to love is and I intend to look after that which I am guardian of, make it grow, serve more love, and seed many temples. And I want this wild tribe of lovers to experience a reunion of their inner riches with the resources of the earth. That ecstasy comes when we open.

so, beloveds, please help. help us stand for love, help us restore the temples on the physical plane. help us liberate ourselves more fully into the joy and fearlessness of being who we came to be. ....


Ever responsive to feedback, Lyon restructured the partnership plan to be a limited partnership with a minimum investment of $50,000 NZD.

By February 27th, 2017 he was able to secure $270,000, but was still $200,000 short by April 18th, 2017, at which time he was seeking $20,000 USD, one-year interest-free loans to get past the finish line. Somehow, Bruce made it across the line by the settlement date of May 2nd, with more than a little help from his ISTA friends. As such, despite being an organism without an office, ISTA is now associated with the permanent location of Highden Temple in the eyes of Wikipedia.

School was back in session, but instead of a postgraduate Hogwarts, the influence of ISTA can be seen throughout the current operation. Gone are the days of free tuition, chore boards, and a year-long curriculum, in exchange for a peek into the ancient mysteries. Courses at Highden are short, but cost hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on your accommodation choice. The signature offering of Highden, Temple Trainings, cost over $7,000. Prior to the pandemic, ISTA courses were also offered, but the majority of offerings appeared to be more aligned to his vision of a modern-day mystery school. The telepathic transmissions Bruce had back in the 2000s began again, and, as the pandemic wore on, it would be this approach that would carry Highden through with local interest in cacao workshops and other activities.

Bruce resigned from teaching ISTA training in 2020, but is still listed on the ISTA website as a former governance member. On December 2, 2021 Lyon made a renewed call for new investment on Facebook:

Highden Temple is looking for new pillars to help embody and flower the principles of our growing mystery school. The first cycle of grounding the temple is complete - the template for the teachings has been developed and tested over the last four years. The Temple is financially secure and sustainable, has no debt and is developing a new currency and soul based economics. We are part of a growing global network of similar temples landing as the soul of the world is emerging and finding anchor points for trying out new culture. We have had considerable international support in the landing process and are now looking for more kiwis or NZ residents to help hold this living experiment.

Highden is structured as a limited partnership with 10 pillars ( each holding 1/12 ownership )  and 10 posts ( each holding 1/60 ). Current entry for a pillar is NZ$300,000 and a post is $60,000. Financial accounts to end of March 2021 show a net equity of $4.8m and partnership equity per pillar $370k and a post at $74k so there is a 20% discount on asset backing. We have one pillar and one post available at this level. More important than the financial investment is the resonance with the principles alive at the core of the Temple and the willingness to contribute to its ongoing development.

If you feel the call to  join us in this role please reach out to me on and we can have a preliminary chat.

Bruce Lyon

It appears Bruce and the business of Highden is currently thriving. Single-sex courses for preteens and their parents are now enrolling for the spring, ensuring a new generation is waiting in the wings. However, a series of disruptions and upsets within the ISTA may upend this success:

Andrew Barnes

Andrew Barnes was an ISTA contemporary of Bruce Lyon, rising through the ranks at the same time as our antipodean shaman. But rather than matching Bruce’s upwards trajectory, Barnes was quietly removed from the ISTA faculty in 2016 due to a dispute over the eating of animal hearts during a ritual at an ISTA course. In 2018, Barnes was the subject of an investigation by Be Scofield about multiple accusations of rape and sexual abuse made against Barnes, with some assaults occurring during ISTA Trainings. To date, no formal charges have been laid against Barnes in relation to these complaints. Barnes was questioned by police in Bali in 2021 after an uproar about his ‘orgasm retreat’ in Ubud, Bali. Barnes was not arrested, but released, and the course was cancelled. Barnes’ signature workshop is called “Tantric body de-armouring”, which he has offered at least once in NZ.

Ohad Pele Ezhari

Ohad Ezhari is another contemporary of Lyon’s in the ISTA organisation and, if Highden’s website is correct, a financial contributor to Highden. Ezhari resides in Israel where a large contingent of ISTA graduates also reside. A former client of Ezhari's who spoke to Tel Aviv publication Haaretz (English translation provided here) gave a graphic description about being violated by Ohad. This accusation is recent; coming from a facebook group called Issues with ISTA and Highden Temple Trainings that was created in June, 2022. No further allegations have made it to print yet.

A significant portion of the article above considers the poor care given to women with previous sexual trauma who seek this alternative therapy. Sometimes, that trauma is accompanied by a deep distrust of police, the justice system, and traditional counsellors and therapists. However, while some participants benefit from this modality of treatment, others find that teachers can be ignorant about the range of trauma responses due to their limited training, which makes engaging with this brand of healer excessively risky in the first place. In discussions about ISTA and sacred sexuality that have come out from the Facebook group, current and former ISTA devotees are divided. Many agree that no one should come to ISTA until they have engaged in heavy-duty therapy. However, there is disagreement about whether ISTA’s statements about participants’ self-responsibility allows teachers to wash their hands of their role in an attendee’s re-traumatisation. Many ISTA teachers, as is the case in many other spiritual circles, teach that the individual is responsible for whatever happens to them, thereby avoiding the existence of victim/perpetrator dyad. Others see that dynamic as a source of drama, and refuse to engage with it.

Baba Dez

While Baba Dez long stepped down as director of ISTA, and ceased facilitating teaching in 2019, stories of gaslighting and impropriety with women are still referred to vaguely, but with regularity, by bloggers. Again, there are no legal charges currently filed against him, but the organisation he founded is being called on by the community he brought together to create permanent frameworks to address current complaints, and to prevent future re-traumatisation. Dez’s original plan was to return to teaching with ISTA but those plans may be up in the air given the current outrage.

Is there a future for Highden Temple?

The Issues with ISTA and Highden Temple Trainings Facebook group cannot be good for PR. But outside of Facebook Bruce has been able to escape unscathed, with neither the group or the survey reaching the first three pages of Google search. Instead, Bruce is investing his literal and figurative energies into establishing his international network of Temples; There is one in Samothraki, Greece and another in Köyrä Village, Finland (called Nikkilä). In the Facebook realm, but outside of the aforementioned group, Bruce and Highden simply don’t have the same profile as Baba Dez and the broader ISTA brand. This may be the very magic spell that keeps Highden Temple rolling through to the “banner year” that 2025 promises to be.

If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
If you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
Copyright © 2022 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp