There is an odd little building in Chanhassen with a pyramid-like roof, surrounded by gently sloping fields and flowers. Few who pass by know it's the center of an international new-age religion -- beloved by some, derided as a cult by others, ignored or unknown by most. This building is the Temple of ECK, the worldwide center for Eckankar.
Eckankar is a hodgepodge faith. Its founder, Paul Twitchell, was part of Scientology in its early days, and one of the first people to go “clear.” He’s also been accused of ripping off other authors in his own religious texts – including L. Ron Hubbard. Still, Eckankar continues to exist, mostly quietly and politely, in the southwest metro area.
That means it was an ideal topic for Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy – the hosts of the popular podcast Oh No Ross and Carrie.
Blocher and Poppy are endlessly curious about all things religious, paranormal, and fringe science. It’s not just a spectator’s curiosity. The pair seem their happiest when in the thick of a multi-level marketing scheme, a flat Earth convention, or an alleged cult. The point of the show is that they “show up so you don’t have to.”
So the two headed from California to Minnesota to experience the Eckankar Spring Seminar, which took place at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton. They joined the church, read the books, took the classes, sang the mantras. Poppy even placed a photo of Sri Harold Klemp, Eckankar’s “God-realized” spiritual leader, by her bed, hoping he’d appear in her dreams to counsel her in Eck’s teachings.
Klemp never did show up. In fact, several of the promises of Eckankar fell a little flat. As far as “cults” went, it was fairly mild-mannered, boring, and only ever-so-slightly “creepy,” certainly compared to Twitchell’s history in the far more colorful world of Scientology. But they did come away with 10 podcast episodes all the same.
Unfortunately, they were also kicked out of the church. In the final episode, Blocher revealed he’d received a letter saying his membership had been revoked and he’d have to identify himself as media at further events – unless he wanted to pursue the faith “in earnest.”
“I can only say ‘fair enough,’” Blocher says. “Obviously,” this isn’t the kind of attention Eckankar wanted, but he’d still argue that “earnestness” doesn’t include a presupposition of belief.
“We really take seriously that we don’t just make an entertainment show – we make an informational show,” Poppy adds. “We really want to know what people are teaching, what people believe, and whether those things are true.”
Eckankar didn’t respond to interview requests, so it’s hard to say if it would have kept them on if they’d become true believers instead of remaining skeptics. Still, it could have been worse.
Blocher and Poppy have had “similar and even worse break-ups” with various religions they’ve covered. Their eviction from Scientology was one of their more dramatic exits, and there was a peculiar scuffle in the aftermath of a certain ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica.
There have also been some truly positive experiences. They both find the Eck mantra (Hu, pronounced “Hue”) to be a fairly calming, pleasant activity. The concerts were large and surprisingly multi-cultural. Poppy even says she still has the picture of Klemp by her bedside. If he ever does turn up in her dreams, she’ll happily return to an Eckankar event.
And they’re still hoping to get answers to the questions from a willing, dedicated Eckist.
“By all means, tell us about what you don’t like about our approach, or what we got wrong,” Blocher says.