Het Parool, November 18, 2006 - front page
A QUESTIONABLE COURSE FOR THE UNEMPLOYED
by Henk Schutten
AMSTERDAM -The Dutch benefits agency UWV pays large sums of money to
enable unemployed people to follow a program offered by Avatar; an
organization with a character similar to Scientology. According to the
program's author, serious illnesses such as cancer are caused by
"disembodied beings" in our bodies. Avatar was set up 20 years ago by
Harry Palmer, a former Scientology follower. In the Netherlands 650
unemployed people have taken the course in recent years. The basis
course is expensive at 2,000 euros. Those who wish to follow the entire
path of Avatar have to pay at least 11.000 euros.
The UWV financed the Avatar courses as part of retraining programs to
help unemployed people get a job. The UWV does not want to reveal how
many courses it paid for so far: "The connection between the UWV and
Avatar is privacy-sensitive," says the UWV.
Former Avatar Master Ronald Cools recently warned the UWV not to get
involved with the Avatar organization "because participants are taught
a belief system that tells them they are possessed by astral spirits,
that cause diseases, body malfunctions, compulsive behaviour and mental
problems." As a response, the UWV said, "clients who did Avatar as part
of the retraining project are not dissatisfied."
Pages 38-39 [main article]
In the Netherlands, Avatar is expanding strongly yet silently. Now even
the benefits agency UWV is involved with this American organization to
help unemployed people get a job. Avatar is called '"the most powerful,
purest personal development program available." But critics say it is
a cult that shows characteristics comparable to those of another
controversial organization -- "Avatar is Scientology-Lite."
By: Henk Schutten
SCIENTOLOGY, BUT NOT QUITE
[Photograph of Pieta Van der Ham]:
Photo caption: Pieta Van der Ham paid 4,000 guilders for the first
course. "But if I didn't like it, I could ask for a refund."
PIETA VAN DER HAM recently returned from a trip to South Korea and
Japan. She is part of a select group of about twenty coaches who travel
the around world to spread the philosophy of the Avatar organization.
Van der Ham was among the first Avatar-students in the Netherlands. She
was working as a physiotherapist back in 1990 when she first came in
contact with the organization. "I had a good job, but realised I didn't
want to stay in that profession until I retired at 65," she says.
Friends recommended she take an Avatar course. Only after they insisted
for a long time did she decide to go. For a nine-day training, 4,000
guilders was a lot of money. "But, I was promised that if I didn't like
the course I would get a refund." Avatar is, says the Netherlands
Internet site, "the most powerful, purest personal development program
available ." Van der Ham describes it as a serie of experiential
exercises that enable people to focus their consciousness to whatever
they want to achieve.
The program was designed by Harry Palmer, who during the 1980s was
immersed in Scientology teachings. "By 1982, I had pretty much finished
my own study of Scientology and occupied myself with other matters."
Palmer admits that the Avatar teachings show "some similarities" with
Scientology, but according to him the same applies to all other
subjects he has studied, such as "Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity,
Hinduism, Islam, Psychology and Theosophy."
AIDS IS CAUSED BY "'TELEPATHIC ENTITIES"
During the so-called Wizard course, Palmer teaches his followers that
psychic and physical problems are caused by telepathic contact with
"disembodied" beings" or "entities.". "People who try to heal
chronic conditions with medicine and operations, are really trying to
heal something which is not theirs," said Palmer. "Take AIDS, for
instance: what telepathic intention would cause a person to react by
shutting down his or her immune system? Take cancer: what telepathic
intention would cause a person to react by creating rampant cell
"Someday soon" says Palmer, " when the world is ready for it,
there will be an Avatar healing course to train Wizards to counsel
people about entities and how to handle them.."
Van der Ham discovered during her first course that she had been
holding herself back to a great extent through "limiting ideas" -
"At that time, I found I was worrying about everything. After the
course, I was much more cheerful. That anxiety was gone."
In 1992, Pieta Van der Ham herself became an instructor. "After
two-and-a-half years I was able to do it full time." Meanwhile, her
house in the centre of Amsterdam has become the informal headquarters
of the Dutch Avatar organization.
The philosophy of Harry Palmer was initially attractive to adherents of
New Age thought, with "personal growth" as the central theme. But
within recent years, the number of course participants grew rapidly.
Worldwide, the organisation is represented in more than 70 countries,
with around 100,000 followers, about 6,500 of those in the Netherlands.
Just in Amsterdam, there are now 30 active Avatar Masters offering the
course. The courses, which generally take place at the Hotel Zuiderduin
in Egmond aan Zee, are attended by hundreds of followers.
The popularity of Avatar is remarkable, considering the prices people
have to pay for the courses. Just the basis training course costs 2,000
euros. For anyone who wants a license to give the courses himself, the
required Master course costs another 2,350 euros. Then the Wizard
course costs 5,860 euro. Those who want to travel the entire Avatar
path, will put out at least 11,000 euros. That doesn't count travel
and lodging expenses, since Wizard trainings are only held at the
headquarters in Orlando.
Thus, giving Avatar courses is a lucrative occupation for both the
coaches and the organisation. Fifteen to twenty percent of the income
must be transferred to the mother organization, Star's Edge. Course
participants who give trainings after becoming licensed themselves must
pay a percentage to the one who trained them.
Annually, just in the Netherlands, between 400 and 500 people sign up
for a course. Before that, they have to sign an agreement that they are
attending at their own risk. Course participants must further, as made
clear in the contract, release all Avatar trainers from any claims
whatsoever resulting from instructions or services that are part of the
course..Finally they must promise that they will not copy or share the
Palmer denies that it is a confidentiality agreement. "These conditions
are imposed by most companies for confidential material that affect the
company's well-being. We want to make certain the course materials are
released in a way that will not cause harm to our organization or to
those who receive the information."
According to Palmer, Avatar has been wrongfully described as a cult.
"We do not try to change anyone's spiritual or religious beliefs. Our
organization has no churches or communal living spaces, and I'm neither
a guru nor a spiritual leader. We are a for-profit enterprise that pays
its employees well, and pays its taxes properly."
"IT'S A PYRAMID SCHEME"
According to former followers, the Wizard course particularly shows
great similarity with Scientology materials. Avatar is about power and
money, says an ex-Avatar Master, who does not want his name published
in the newspaper: "It is a pyramid scheme. Avatar Masters receive a
percentage of the income of their own course participants, as soon as
they start training other people.
The elementary courses start innocently, "but as you rise in the
hierarchy, the organization shows more and more cult characteristics.
If anyone criticizes, that's an immediate conflict. Your license is
suspended, and you can say goodbye to your money."
"Anyone who doesn't cooperate is immediately rejected," confirms
another certified Avatar renegade, who also wishes to tell her story
She is astonished that a government agency like UWV provides financing
for Avatar courses. "I consider that dangerous. Anyone who has taken
the Master course can give these trainings. Those courses go on for
days, and they are very intensive. People sometimes don't eat or drink,
and they get very little sleep. They can break down or even become
psychotic, yet the coaches are not at all trained for that."
Pieta Van der Ham admits that the course will not have desired effect
on everyone. "For this reason, people are carefully screened in
advance. But not everyone is honest with us." Things only get out of
hand occasionally" according to Van der Ham. "Only twice have I seen
people become psychotic, who had withheld information from us. Whereas
over the years, I have worked with hundreds of people."
AVATAR IS UNHAPPY ABOUT COURSES ON THE INTERNET, TOO
[Photograph of Harry Palmer]:
Photo caption: Founder Harry Palmer: "I am not a guru."
Since recently, all Avatar courses are available online, to the great
irritation of its mother organization, Star's Edge. When a newsgroup
published the complete texts of the Wizard course in March of this
year, they were removed from the Google Usenet archives after a month
do to legal threats by Star's Edge lawyers.
Since then the texts are available through www.avatarscam.com.
Responsible for this are the Dutchmen Ronald Cools and Jeta
Eggers."Avatar is Scientology-Lite," says Eggers, who earlier
published confidential Scientology materials on the internet together
with Karin Spaink, causing an international row. The lawsuit that
Scientology started against Spaink lasted for years and was decided
last year in her favor.
When publishing the Scientology materials, Eggers used a skilful
manoeuvre to avoid legal traps. "Quotes from this kind of material,
the way Karin Spaink did by just publishing a few important pages and
commenting on them, are permitted by law. But fully publishing these
kinds of texts is infringing on copyright." "In 1999, when the
legal intimidation reached a climax, I put the Scientology materials on
a URL that constantly changes. People who want to read it can email me
and get the texts themselves from the web." Eggers then designed a
website for former Avatar Master Ronald Cools where those who are
interested can get the secret course materials in a similar fashion.
Cools has been in a bitter fight with Avatar for years. According to
him, the end justifies the means. He says he received anonymous
death-threats, and the Avatar organization published a "Situation
Report" in three languages on the web with very personal details about
his life. "Character assassination," according to Cools, "Avatar
did everything to silence me."
Cools was introduced to Avatar in 1990. Two years later he got his
Master's certificate. He had second thoughts when he heard that Avatar
founder Harry Palmer had been active in Scientology. "Much of the
course materials do seem like the Scientology teachings. What
Scientologists call a Body Thetan, Avatar calls an entity." When Cools
went public with his doubts, he very quickly became unwelcome. "During
a three-day course I was sent away." By then, Cools had invested 12,000
guilders [about 5,000 euros] in Avatar.
"COURSE PARTICIPANTS DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'VE GETTING INTO"
Not long ago, Cools sent a warning letter to the UWV expressing his
concern that the social security agency exposes people to Avatar.
"Course students are given a belief system telling them they are
possessed by astral spirits that are responsible for their illnesses,
malfunctioning organs, compulsive behaviour and psychological
problems," wrote Cools. "In the basic course this vision is kept a
secret. Participants don't know what they're getting into."
The UWV was not amenable to the criticism. "Clients who are
re-integrating into the workforce using Avatar have not expressed
discontent about the approach or the service quality of Avatar," they
On the internet, Cools and Eggers continue their struggle against
Avatar. Over the last months a few thousand people have downloaded the
secret Avatar materials: "This will cost them a lot of customers."
Het Parool, November 20, 2006 - page 11
"IF AVATAR HELPS, WHY NOT...?"
from a reporter
The city council doesn't have much problem with the fact that the UWV
tells unemployed people to take courses from Avatar, a movement with
PVDA and D66 think what counts is whether the courses help people find
employment. Groenlinks thinks money for employment re-training
shouldn't be used in this way.
Manon van der Garde, leader of the PVDA party says: "People should
start work as soon as possible. If it helps, I don't have any problems
with it. But when I read the information, I have my doubts."
''It doesn't matter what courses the unemployed take, as long as the
UWV says they help," says Petra Hoogerwerf, councillor for D66.
Former Avatar Master Ronald Cools warned the UWV not to partner with
the organization, because "course participants are subjected to a
belief system that says they are possessed by astral spirits, which are
seen as being responsible for disease, body malfunctions, compulsive
behaviour and psychological problems."