My oldest son is a devoted member of a hybrid "New Age", "Spiritual", encounter/therapy group called "Friend's Landing". It is located in Springfield, Oregon, which is near Eugene. The group's Leader, WhiteWind Swan Fisher now seems to have enormous influence over every aspect of my son's life. We now do not even know where he lives, nor do we have his home phone number and have only brief and infrequent communications with him.
It has been painful coming to this realization. What follows is the story of how it happened. How my wife and I (married for more than twenty years) and our family (which includes three sons) came to be in the position we now are in. It is also the story of how my son eventually was overwhelmed by his experiences at "Friends Landing". This is a cautionary story and I hope others may benefit by learning from our painful experience.
In late 1993 early 1994 my wife and I noticed behavioral changes in our son, which we thought, were consistent with drug or alcohol use. He denied this until March 1994 when he admitted to a drug/alcohol dependency problem and asked for our help. He was 16 years old then. Prior to that time he had a normal childhood and adolescence, doing well in school, participating in sports and music, and had a large group of friends.
We enrolled him in a drug/alcohol-counseling program in March 1994 called "New Connections" in Concord, California. We were assigned to a counselor there named Martin Starr.
My son attended four sessions per week, three with Martin--two were one-on-one, and the third with the whole family and Martin. As time progressed, the family meetings decreased, but our son saw a great deal more of Martin. During the program, my son retained and strengthened his commitment to sobriety, and remains sober today. After about two months of counseling, my son began to share with us that Martin was introducing him to "ancient Native American traditions and spiritual teachings.'' Although it seemed odd to me at the time, I assumed it was harmless and supported his "spiritual pursuits" if he felt this helped his recovery.
That summer he continued meeting with Martin frequently and stayed very committed to his recovery. The fall of 1994 was a difficult time for my son--he had to terminate friendships within his former social group at school with those people who continued to use alcohol and drugs. So his senior year at high school was a bit lonely. But he did do a lot of outdoor activities that year such as rock climbing and backpacking.
During this period, Martin Starr played a pivotal role in his life. He saw my son very often and started him on meditation practices and "spiritual teachings."
In March 1995 my son chose the University of Oregon (in Eugene) for his college. At the time we thought this was his choice and we did not know then that Mr. Starr was a long-term (about three years) member of Friend's Landing. It so happened that the group was planning to move to Springfield, Oregon, a short drive from Eugene, at about the same time that our son was leaving for college. Martin left "New Connections" and moved to the Friend's Landing compound at about the same time our son began his studies at U. of O. Is it just a coincidence that my son chose U. of O.?
During the summer before he went to U. of O. my son's "spiritual" activities seemed to escalate, and his relationship with Martin Starr became much more like a friendship than a counselor-client relationship. Again, though we had some funny feelings about it, we were not yet alarmed about this, as he seemed to be O.K.
He went to U. of O. in the fall of 1995 and lived in the campus dormitory. He seemed to be spending a great deal of time with his schoolwork, and less time with Martin and the Friend's Landing group. However, he did not seem to be making very many new friends. We thought it might be because he was in recovery and did not want to join the usual college partying crowd. In hindsight--I think this was one factor, but also Martin and Friends Landing always seemed to be in the background. The group is located only about 15 miles from campus.
In the Fall of 1996 he moved into an apartment in Eugene with a friend he met at school. While they got along well, they did not seem to be close friends. He began to have a greater and greater interest in the Friend's Landing group. He talked more about visiting Martin and about the group's leader--WhiteWind Swan Fisher--aka Susan Kilborne Musumeci.
I became concerned about him--that he seemed unfocused in his life. I paid him a visit in the spring of 1997. We spent two good days together--we were very close then. After my visit he wrote me a poem about our father-son visit. He entitled the poem, "A Father Emerges."
A Spirit of Fatherhood
A Journey into the Mists
Standing tall, gentle, smile.
Suddenly not a shadow but
A World, a Universe.
A Father emerges.
Bright and fun, with a purpose.
A Teacher of Understanding,
A way of Patience.
a way of Rainbow.
A Father emerges.
A smile too contagious.
A laughter contained.
Savoring a sweet time.
A short time when
measured by reason,
an eternity when measured by Love.
Thoughts wild with memories,
Feelings released by his Presence.
A Father emerges.
An Awakening of Spirit,
The Courage to take a journey,
The Love to find a Son.
A Full Moon, a Full meal.
Fullness of Love. A Full Person.
A Father brings Fullness. A Full
A Father Emerges.
He carries great wisdom. Of Life.
Of courage. Of himself.
A Son ready to Hear. To Hear.
A Father Emerges.
My Father Emerges.
Clearly my son and I were very close at that time. He greatly appreciated that visit, as I did and we drew closer as we shared our life experiences.
At that time he had met a very lovely young lady, and seemed to have a nice relationship with her. But he also began spending large amounts of money, (about $300/qtr.) on meetings he was attending at Friend's Landing. And he spoke of "apprenticing" with WhiteWind Swan Fisher, the group's leader and "Shaman". My impression is that his girlfriend did not support what he was doing there, but at that time I supposed this was just a friendly rivalry between them He also quit his AA activities, and replaced them with Friend's Landing. So again there were warning signs, but I did not pick up on them.
Probably the beginning of WhiteWind's enormous influence over my son began about that time. This was made easier due to Martin's influence and guidance for more than two years--beginning when my son was still a minor under his professional care as a counselor.
In the summer of 1997, my son attended a two-week retreat at Friend's Landing called "Dream Camp", and immediately after that retreat he broke up with his girlfriend. Again, perhaps we should have seen the obvious warning signs, but we didn't. We just figured he was moving on. Little did we know that his girlfriend was against his involvement with the group, and that Friends Landing would be in strong opposition to such criticism.
In the Fall of 1997 my son's involvement with WhiteWind dramatically increased. He began "apprenticing" to be a "wilderness spiritual walker", and began taking even more courses, and spending more money and time with the group. He moved away from his friend, and took an apartment alone near campus and I believe he was spending nearly every weekend at Friends Landing during that school year--even some weeknights. He seemed quite lonely, and talked of being lonely, but "on a spiritual path." He became disillusioned with traditional psychology (he is a psychology major), but maintained a good grade point average that year. He got a job working for one of his professors, and seemed happy with school, but had no other life--except the Friend's Landing group' and one or two friends from his home town who would visit occasionally.
In June of 1998 he moved onto the Friend's Landing compound in Springfield. They have a 60-acre parcel surrounded by an electrified fence--"to keep the deer out". That's when we saw dramatic and sudden changes in his personality.
In order to attempt a reality check and be introduced to his new lifestyle--my wife attended a two-week Dream Camp retreat at Friend's Landing in July. She returned feeling pretty good about the people who were there, but was uncomfortable with their leader WhiteWind. Subsequent to that visit, my son seemed to be drifting further and further away and becoming increasingly distant, both from his mother and I and his two brothers--the whole family. My wife visited him again in August and said he seemed to be completely into the Friend's Landing group, but had a few doubts about what was going on. She talked with him about it then, but he seemed non-committal.
Around this time he asked us to help him pay for another course from WhiteWind. The name of this course is "Spherical Reality" and it costs $5,000.00. We told him no and that we didn't support this. Next we heard he was going to call all his relatives and ask them for money to take the course. This did not sit well with me--so I called him about it. He told me WhiteWind suggested that he do this, and said if I had a problem with this--talk to WhiteWind about it. I spoke with her by phone and advised it seemed unethical for her to suggest to a young man under her influence to solicit his family for money to pay her. I did not know at the time that he was so completely her follower. I only thought she was influential as a "spiritual leader" in his life.
During our phone conversation WhiteWind exploded when I questioned her behavior. She hissed profanities and acted more like a deeply disturbed person than a "spiritual leader". At that moment I knew our son, and we--were in trouble. We then consulted with experts about mind control. We spoke with a psychologist prominent in the field, an author and an intervention specialist.
We arranged for a professional intervention, which were three of the most difficult days of my life. My son voluntarily cooperated, but obstinately sat through these sessions-nearly trance like much of the time. There were only a few moments of meaningful recognition. As soon as the three days he agreed to dialogue were over, though he said he would think it out alone, he returned promptly to the Friend's Landing compound, phoned us and said he would continue with the group.
We remained deeply concerned and continued our efforts to free him from what we see as the group's undue influence, but only have received harsh rebukes and a terrible letter. He has accused us of having "no integrity'" that we are "betraying him," that we want to "control " him, are psychologically impaired and want to harm him. He has called us "liars". This was not the son who wrote such a beautiful poem only twenty months earlier. But it sounded eerily reminiscent of the conversation I once had with WhiteWind.
My son is now working, almost every spare hour (for little or no pay it seems) at one of WhiteWind's three businesses; Friend's Landing seminars, her Paulownia tree farm and/or her garden rock carving company-called "Ancient Rites" in Springfield. He also pays fees either in cash or through work-to attend an array of classes and seminars WhiteWind or one of her followers provides. He continues his "apprenticing" to become a "Shaman" or be a "certified" wilderness counselor (though all the courses are not accredited by any outside agency or organization and are essentially self-accredited). His entire life is centered on Friends Landing. He has distanced himself from his family, has supposedly recently moved, but will not tell us where he lives or what his telephone is. We receive blistering E-mails about how we are interfering in his life.
Here is a partial list of the activities and obligations I believe my son has with Friend's Landing. And these are just those we know about from previous conversations with him-plus reading the Friend's Landing Web site.
Total of $11,500 per year
Total one day and three sessions per month-this does not include course and other group activities.
According to my son he receives little or no compensation for the sessions he leads for the group. He also advises us that he is obligated to work in one of the group's businesses in order to get the money to attend the courses that WhiteWind tells him he needs to attend. It seems that the more he works, the more indebted he becomes.
So far he says he will be continuing to attend U. of O. and we are paying his tuition, but are unsure just how much longer WhiteWind may allow this to continue. He refuses to accept any money from us for living expenses, so we don't know how he is supporting himself-for food and clothing. When he came to visit us and agreed to sit through three days of intervention-he was wearing the same tennis shoes we gave him over two years ago. It seems doubtful that he will be able to carry a full college course load and meet the demands of Friend's Landing.
People need to know about WhiteWind Swan Fisher and her followers at Friends Landing. Martin Starr continues to work in Oregon in the teen-counseling field. Hopefully, more young people will not be influenced by him as our son was. Parents and the community need to know how he affected our son's life and what his "counseling" did to our family. While I believe Martin is under undue influence-this does not excuse the trust he betrayed as our son's counselor. Nor does it negate the end result-our son's recruitment into a disturbing group, or our current predicament. Despite awareness regarding our concerns-Martin Starr is still devoted to WhiteWind and continues to be a potential source of recruits for Friends Landing.
Martin and Friends Landing influenced our son at a time when he was most vulnerable. They have caused much unhappiness within our family. I believe New Connections must share some responsibility for the damage to my son's well being for not more carefully supervising Martin Starr. Hopefully, his new employer in Eugene, Oregon better supervises Martin.
Will Martin Starr influence more vulnerable young people to join Friend's Landing?
How many more lives will fall under the influence of WhiteWind Swan Fisher?