Valerie Georgeson was a very successful writer and actress, always interested in religion and spirituality. She was on the original writing team of EastEnders and appeared in Coronation Street and other drama series before writing adult novels (The Shadow of the Elephant quartet) and well-loved childrens’ TV (Jonny Briggs, Simon & the Witch, Animals of Farthing Wood). But her spiritual journey was cut short after she unwittingly fell under the influence of a group whose charismatic leader wielded god-like power and control over her followers.
In “God, the Devil and Me” Valerie explains how she got caught up with the Sahaja Yoga movement and how it affected her career and inflicted long term psychological trauma.
Q: Valerie, after a successful career as a TV script writer, – and writing eight novels, you threw in your career and disappeared. And then, for twenty years you wrote nothing – and then this new book of yours came along – God, the Devil and Me – It’s an autobiography and it’s had some cracking reviews by the way – ‘searingly honest’, ‘a gripping read’, ‘astonishing’. You’ve obviously not lost your touch! But twenty years on – what on earth happened?
A: It’s a long story! I was always what you could call a seeker. In fact, the sub title of the book is The Chronicles of a Seeker of God. Even as a child there was always that cry in the depth of my heart, that sense of something missing. And it only got stronger as I got older. I taught myself to meditate, and later benefitted from the Alexander Technique, which freed me up, left me open to inspiration – and – I was experiencing God’s presence in my life.
Q: God’s presence? In what way?
A: Well, I was in Canterbury, in a play – you know- I was an actress too – the play was Alfie. It was a difficult time. My marriage was in trouble. So between the matinee and evening shows I took to going into the cathedral to find some peace. And I was sitting there in the empty church, wondering what it really was all about – my life, everything, when I heard a voice, clear as a bell. And it said, ‘One day you will write a book for God’.
Q: So, you’re saying God told you to write this book?
A: Well, a book. But of course I had no idea what the book would be about.
Q: So, what happened?
A: You’ll have to read the book!! But I will tell you, after my divorce, I was drawn into a sect. You’ll find the whole story in the book, it’s called God the Devil and Me. The title tells you a good deal. I became their battleground .
Q: I see. So, which sect? There are a good many.
A: It was Sahaja Yoga. And the guru was called, Mataji, or ‘Mother’, an Indian lady who had based her teachings on Hindu foundations. When she discovered I was a writer, she gave me special attention. And at first I felt like I was getting closer to God. But I wasn’t. A trap was closing. Mataji knew about the book. And she knew what it would be about. She knew it better than I did.
Q: Tell me about the trap. How were you trapped?
A: Every sect works the same way. Bit by bit you are made dependent on the guru. You are married to a Sahaja Yogi.
Q: Were you ?
A: Yes. He was the leader of the movement in the UK no less. Then you find your finances bound up in SY in some way. And if you have children, they aren’t yours, they’re Mataji’s. So the bonds that tie you are emotional, financial and mental. The guru is the sole master of all three. Your time is given over to SY meetings, with celebrations all over the world, until you have no time to work to earn your living. It all happens bit by bit, slowly the bonds tighten. And your spiritual freedom is stifled. I saw children taken from their mothers, women accused of immorality and sent away ‘to get better’, their children told to forget them because they were ‘no good.’ For me, the worst was that I felt my connection with God was slipping. So, I sent Mataji a telepathic message, ‘Please give me back my desire for God.’ It triggered a catastrophe.
Q: What happened?
A: I was banished. My husband was told to leave me. He refused, but his little daughter was taken from him. And so, I began to write the book. I was going to sell it to the newspapers to pay for a court case. We wanted her back. But when a solicitor’s letter reached the kidnappers, suddenly she was thrown back at us, as traumatised as we were. Our family never really recovered.
Q: But the book?
A: Yes, the book. I remember looking at what I’d already written, outlining our history, thinking, ‘Is there any point going on with it?’ when suddenly I recognised it as the book I was always going to write.
Q: How long ago was this?
A: Thirty years or so.
Q: Why has it taken so long?
A: Mataji had said to my husband, ‘I can stop her writing’. And she threw everything she had at it. There were malevolent occult attacks, all my writing was attacked, things went wrong, projects fell apart. Mataji’s hostility was unrelenting. Again, I have to say read all about it in the book. Mataji wanted to destroy me as a writer.
Q: What kept you going?
A: God had not deserted me. Mary rescued us – she came to us in Venice, sweeping her love like a cloak around us and eventually taking us to her Son. I started keeping a diary of everything, both God’s action and Mataji’s reactions. And then I wrote them up into the book. In some ways, I could honestly say that I didn’t write this book. God wrote the book in my life. All I had to do was write it down! So as long as the story continued, I had to keep on writing. I had to chronicle everything so I could help all those others still trapped in Sahaja Yoga, and in all the other sects. I had to show them there is a way out.
Q: Valerie, you did it, against all the odds. And I must say, it is an inspiring read. A real page turner too. Thank You.
Coming out of a cult is always difficult. But neither religious nor secular organisations set up to help victims of cults seem to recognize the all encompassing nature of the spiritual battles faced by true seekers. This is a chronicle of that seeking, showing the pitfalls and the helpful indicators on that stony path while discovering the power of the spirit to learn and evolve through trial and error, and the vital importance of forgiveness. Writing God, the Devil and Me turned out to be an important part of the battle it describes. This is a deeply researched piece of investigative journalism, a grown-up enquiry into the collective psyche.
Born in South Shields in 1945, Valerie Georgeson has in the course of her career been a member of Equity, the Samaritans, International Dance Teachers Association, The Writers’ Guild, BAFTA, Society of Authors and the British Association of Iconographers. She has a UK degree in Drama & Theatre Arts and English Literature, and a French degree in Theological Studies. She now lives in France, a European Geordie expat.