Twitchell, (John) Paul (ca. 1918-1971)

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Twitchell, (John) Paul (ca. 1918-1971)

Founder of the ECKANKAR, a spiritual movement teaching the "ancient science of soul travel." ECKANKAR is derived from the Radhasoami religion of the Punjab area of India. Twitchell was born in Paducah, Kentucky, around 1918. He joined the navy during World War II and then pursued a career as a journalist and the life of spiritual seeking after the war.

His spiritual search led him to the Church of Absolute Monism, a Hindu offshoot of the Self-Revelation Fellowship. He became editor of the church's periodical, The Mystic Cross, but came into conflict with the church's founder, Swami Premananda, in 1955. Shortly after leaving, he became a disciple of Kirpal Singh, a teacher in the Radhasoami tradition and head of the Ruhani Satsang. He also became involved with the recently founded Church of Scientology.

In 1964 Twitchell and his wife, Gail Atkinson, moved to San Francisco, where he became an independent Radhasoami teacher, and the following year founded ECKANKAR and announced that he was the Living ECK Master. He claimed that he had originally heard of soul travel from his foster father, who learned about it from an Indian holy man, Sudar Singh, originally from Allahabad, whom Twitchell later met in Paris, France. He further claimed that he had been taught soul travel by a mysterious Tibetan master named Rebazar Tarzs, who first appeared to Twitchell in 1944 while Twitchell was serving on a U.S. Navy vessel in the Pacific. He visited India after World War II and upon returning to the United States began writing books allegedly dictated by Rebazar Tarzs.

Twitchell authored a number of books in the years after the founding of ECKANKAR. He died unexpectedly on September 17, 1971, by which time ECKANKAR had become a successful new religion. He was succeeded by Darwin Gross as the new Living ECK Master.

During the 1980s David Christopher Lane made serious charges of plagiarism against Twitchell. He suggested that Twitchell not only took his basic teachings from the Radhasoami tradition but also plagiarized lengthy passages from the books of several prominent authors. Lane's well-documented charges caused much dissension within the movement and a reappraisal of Twitchell's career.

Sources:

Lane, David Christopher. The Making of a Spiritual Movement. Del Mar, Calif.: Del Mar Press, 1983.

Simpson, Patti. Paulji: A Memoir. Menlo Park, Calif.: ECKANKAR, 1985.

Steiger, Brad. In My Soul I Am Free. New York: Lancer Books, 1968.

Twitchell, Paul. The Tiger's Fang. New York: Lancer Books, 1969.