"There isn't any question: [Eli Siegel] killed himself."
written by a former member of Aesthetic Realism, August 2008
haven't thought about these people in years until I received some of
their literature out of the blue. I did an Internet search in a
moment of morbid curiosity and I found all this fuss over Eli Siegel's
death. There isn't any question: He killed himself. I heard
this directly from Ellen Reiss, the person who became Aesthetic
Realism's "class chairman" because (as Siegel said), "There's no one
better." (I heard Reiss say this, too.)
was a shame-based person who had internalized all of the negative
stereotypes about gay people. In other words, I was a perfect
target for Aesthetic Realism."
early 70s, I was young and gay. This was still a difficult time
to come out of the closet, though many brave pioneers were doing
it. I wasn't one of them. I was clinically depressed but
didn't know it at the time. I was a shame-based person who had
internalized all of the negative stereotypes about gay people. In
other words, I was a perfect target for Aesthetic Realism.
Aesthetic Realism acting class, Anne Fielding, the instructor,
referenced her claim to fame. Was it her Obie Award?
No. Was it her work with Kate Hepburn? No? Anne
Fielding was the wife of Sheldon Kranz, the "first man to change from
homosexuality through the study of Aesthetic Realism with Eli
Siegel." Kranz was often billed this way in his seminars about
"changing from homosexuality." In those days, the Aesthetic
Realism Foundation took number counts. Kranz was the first man to
change, so and so the twenty-fifth, whoosis was number seventy-one, and
that maybe I could be "normal" and learn to like myself. Years
later after some therapy and a bit of living I finally realized that
I'm okay just as I am. Life has gone on--and very well. But
at the time, my pain drove me into a cult that did a nasty job on my
already damaged sense of self. I joined and started taking
months of consultations I complained that I wasn't changing [from being
gay]. The consultants said that this was because I didn't want to be
'grateful' to Eli Siegel."
There was much
talk of my so-called "contempt team" with my mother. I supposedly
"used her" to have contempt for all women. This, the consultants
said, was why I was gay. After months of consultations I
complained that I wasn't changing. The consutants said that this
was because I didn't want to be "grateful" to Eli Siegel. This
was always the pat answer (read excuse) when Aesthetic Realism didn't
badgered into "admitting" that I really had changed. I was so
desperate for acceptance, that I began claiming that I had "changed
Next thing I
knew I was signing a statemet for publication in the New York Times and
I was accepted into the inner circle of "consultants-in-training."
Eli Siegel had
already had his operation by this time and had resumed a partial
teaching schedule. When attending a class with Siegel, it was
almost like a day in court. You were expected to rise to your feet when
he entered the room. He talked about the operation claiming that
"something went wrong." There was no actual medical evidence that
the operation was botched; at least none that was mentioned in any of
the classes I attended. I do know that the Aesthetic Realism Foundation
received a letter from the hospital saying that they had conducted an
investigation and found no evidence of a mistake.
To the best of
my knoweldge no other medical doctors were called in to challenge the
hospital's claim. Simply, a depressed Siegel said that something had
gone wrong,so you were expected to believe it. Every week,
Siegel's followers wrote letters to his surgeon demanding that he come
clean. Later, we were pressured to send letters to other doctors
(not necessarily anyone who was associated with the case) to demand
that they ask the doctor to come clean.
remains: Was Siegel the best judge of his own medical condition?
Talking of his life, Siegel said at the time, "What used to have color
is now coated with gray." I said to a psychologist once, "Doesn't
this sound like clinical depression?" "Yep," he said, "That's
clinical depression." So Siegel's loving followers agreed to
allow a depressed man to take his own life.
Realists' claims to the contrary, this is not what experts mean when
they talk of dying with dignity. If you believe in assisted
suicide (as this probably was) ethics require that you make damned sure
that the individual can't be relieved of their pain in any other way.
And you make damned sure that the individual is a rational judge of his
own needs. If Siegel was indeed clinically depressed, then
treatment for depression was called for, NOT suicide.
"The letter said, in no uncertain terms that Siegel had taken his life through 'pills designed for sleep'."
So now, let's
get down to brass tacks. How do I know that Eli Siegel killed
himself? His widow, Martha Baird began reading a letter she had written
to the consultants and consultants-in-training. She began weeping
and passed the letter to Reiss, to read the bulk of it aloud. The
letter said, in no uncertain terms that Siegel had taken his life
through "pills designed for sleep." (Followers, even Siegel's own
wife, often imitated his peculiar writing style. Heaven forbid
she would just say "sleeping pills".)
remains: Who gave Eli Siegel the pills? He couldn't walk, and he
was living in the home of one of his students. It's not likely
that he popped down to the drug store for a bottle of Sominex under his
own power. It's not likely that he even took delivery of
the pills without somebody knowing about it.
So despite his
follwers claims that the operation killed him, Eli Siegel was probably
helped out of this world by one or more of them. Who gave Eli
Siegel the pills? I have no idea but of this I'm sure: The Grim
Reaper had help, and it wasn't from the doctor.
Editor's Note: I'm
always happy when
another former member decides to share their story, and I'm grateful
for this contribution. It's a valuable addition to our library of
ex-member testimonies. About where Siegel got the pills, there's
not really any mystery there: His students supplied them. Other
members have confirmed this.
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Former members describe Aesthetic Realism
- The ULTIMATE statement by a former member. Wow. A former Aesthetic Realism member who was involved for over ten years and into the 1990's sent us this incredibly detailed account of what life inside AR is like. This puts to rest once and for all any lingering question about whether AR is a cult - it is. The AR people will not be able to "counter" this on their Countering the Lies website because this account is from one of their own, and because it's so exhaustively detailed.
- A tale of getting sucked in. Another former member shares his experiences. This story is unique because he describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.
- Growing up in Aesthetic Realism. What it's like to be born into a cult.
- Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "[It] introduced a level of stress in my marriage that had not previously existed....I consider my 'study' of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow." This former member also wrote about AR on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind.
- On having all the answers. A former member explains how AR members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture others about how they should view personal tragedy.
- Kicked out for remaining gay. A former student describes how he was kicked out of AR because he couldn't change from homosexuality. Powerful stuff.
- "Leaving, however, was only the first challenge.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.
- "If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor." A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.
- "This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.
- "I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" A former member tells her story, and wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.
- They took his consultation tape. A former student describes how AR people kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more radically into his life.
- "There isn't any question: Eli Siegel killed himself.". A former member who sought AR's "gay cure" describes how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.
- "I personally know at least half of the contributors to AR's Countering the Lies website and know them to either be fibbing or having a long-term memory problem.". A former member
from 1971-80, confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed him from homosexuality.
- Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Originally written for Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.
- Michael Bluejay's description. This whole website is my statement about Aesthetic Realism. But in this article I describe my family's involvement in more detail.
- Members interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.
- NY Post article. A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are now critical of the group.
Aesthetic Realism at a Glance
Aesthetic Realism Foundation
|Eli Siegel, poet and art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978
|To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.
|The key to all social ills is for people to learn to like the world. Having contempt for the world leads to unhappiness and even insanity. (Their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity".) For example, homosexuality is a form of insanity caused by not liking the world sufficiently.
Also teaches that "beauty is the making one of
|New York City (SoHo)
|About 106 (33 teachers, 44 training to be teachers, and 29 regular students). Has failed to grow appreciably even after 70 years of existence, and is currently shrinking.
All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers. Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
Method of study
|Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and
individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student).
- Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
- Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
- Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
- Feeling that they are being persecuted
- Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
- Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left
- Odd, specialized language.
More about cult aspects...
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Open offer to debate
Since 2005 I've had an open offer to debate the Aesthetic Realists publicly in a formal format at any time to defend what I've said on this site, and to answer their own charges against me. But the AR people won't do it. Their excuse is, "He's not worth debating." But if that's true, then why did they put up a ninety-six page website to try to snipe at me and to try to rebut what I'm saying? I think the answer is that they're content to hide behind the cover of the Internet, but they know how bad they'd look in a live format where anyone actually got to ask any pointed questions.
You know what's really funny? Someone went to one of their public presentations, said he'd seen this site, and asked about the cult allegations. The AR person said, "It's very easy to say crap like that on the Internet and never have to be challenged." Oh, the irony is killing me!
Anyway, Aesthetic Realists, as for a public debate, I'm ready when you are. And to everyone else, when the AR people won't stand behind what they're saying, why should anyone take what they say seriously?
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