Updated, Jan. 6, 2017 at 1PM: The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies issued the following statement in response to this article.

I am writing to set the record straight. Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is not a religious cult. We are a secular, nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational institution with a 40-year track record of being an economic pillar and environmental steward in the Hudson Valley. Each year we see approximately 23,000 people come through our doors, from all walks of life, and with varied belief systems. People of all faiths, and none at all, come to Omega as a trusted source for lifelong learning, and to study with thought leaders and social visionaries from across the country and around the world. Our teachers have included Nobel Laureates, world renowned economists and physicians, New York Times best-selling authors, Grammy Award winning musicians, Academy Award winning actors, and prominent politicians. Our key initiatives lend critical support to veterans, nonprofits, educators, women leaders, and environmentalists. As a nonprofit organization, Omega has received a gold rating from GuideStar for our commitment to transparency and accountability.
I invite you to visit eOmega.org and learn more.

—Robert "Skip" Backus, Omega CEO


Original story:

You may have a religious cult based right in your neighborhood and not even know it, according to Christian advocacy group the Watchman Fellowship.

We were surprised to find out that seven organizations in our area are considered cults or fringe religions. Now, our aim isn't to judge anyone's beliefs or to claim that these groups are in anyway dangerous or unscrupulous. One person's religion can be another person's cult.

The Watchman Fellowship compiled a comprehensive list of cults and religions from across the country. According to their website they believe in access to information from both sides, so members can make an educated decision about whether to follow the teachings of these groups or not.

Like them, we'll leave it up to you to decide whether these groups are dubious or simply harmless.

Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

These seven groups that the Watchman Fellowship has characterized as cults are based right here in the Hudson Valley. Here's how the Watchman Fellowship has defined their use of the word "cult":

Watchman Fellowship usually uses the term cult with a Christian or doctrinal definition in mind. In most cases the group claims to be Christian, but because of their aberrant beliefs on central doctrines of the faith (God, Jesus, and salvation), the organization is not considered by Watchman Fellowship to be part of orthodox, biblical Christianity.

Have you ever come in contact with any of these organizations?

Anthroposophic Society in Hudson
Anthroposophists follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who gained a following in the early 20th century. Steiner believed in using the spiritual world to foster independent thinking and was a proponent of natural science, which many skeptics today may classify as "junk science." The group's Rudolf Steiner Library is located in Hudson and is the base for the organization's research efforts. The site is also used to distribute information to its members. The Mountain Laurel Waldorf school in New Paltz is one of many Steiner or Waldorf schools across the country that are based on the teachings of Steiner. The school has been noted for having the largest percentage of students in the area who have not received vaccinations, which is in line with Steiner's views of natural science.

Golden Quest in Woodstock
This publishing group is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Hilda Charlton. The former dancer began to build a following in the 1950s and would advise her followers in communicating with divine beings, rock crystals and UFOs. Charlton passed away in 1988 but her followers still spread the word of her teachings through the publishing company's headquarters in Woodstock.

Kirpal Light Sating in Kinderhook
Following the teachings of Guru Thakar Singh, this group follows a strict vegetarian diet and practices daily meditation. Exposure to outside news such as TV and radio is discouraged. The group's East Coast headquarters is located right here in Kinderhook.

Illya Vinogradov/Thinkstock

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck
This retreat center has been written up in the New York Times and has even made the list of 1,000 places to see before you die. With it's own sauna, free WiFi and luxurious accommodations this place is more of a weekend getaway than a structured religious organization. Classes are offered in New Age religion, aromatherapy, Kabbalah, astrology and crystals. Promotion of these controversial beliefs seems to be the primary reason Watchman Fellowship have added them to their list.

Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg
This monastery is owned and operated by the SYDA Foundation, a group that promotes the teachings of Siddha Yoga. The organization is founded on the teachings of Swami Muktananda who taught self enlightenment through meditation and celibacy. After his death in 1982 some members came forward to accuse him of engaging in sexual relationships with members and even molesting underage followers.

Wise Woman Center near Saugerties
Leader Susun Weed welcomes only female visitors to her retreat and teaches them about herbal healing their inner wellbeing. She describes her center as "a place where the Goddess lives... as do goats, fairies, green witches, and elders." Weed offers two and three day workshops that include "wild-food vegetarian" meals. She also hosts free "Moonlodge" events where women can "sing, dance, pass the talking stick and honor women's wisdom."

 

Arn Draiocht Fein in Nyack
This Druid Fellowship is a pagan church that promotes harmony and worship of nature. The ancient druids have been credited with creating Stonehenge. This modern-day form of the religion has no leader or strict structure. A respect for others and the environment is the main concern of its members. Some argue that this religion is based on a romanticized version of what the Druids originally practiced and not founded in historical accuracy.

We'd like to hear what you think about these organizations and religions. Do you think they are offering a much needed source of enlightenment to their members or are you skeptical about their motives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.