On this week's episode of Liminal Criminals, we dive into the growing pains experienced by the Congregation of the Oversoul on its rise to power. We'll talk about the Congregation's initial failures to create an alternative wellness company. We'll talk about Jason DeGroot's despair and recovery. We'll talk about the Congregation's ascension to the daytime talk show circuit. All this, and more, awaits you, only on Liminal Criminals.
Follow us on Twitter, or on Facebook
Follow, rate, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice.
Find us online at http://liminalcriminals.buzzsprout.com
CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Hello dear listeners. I want to let you all know that this episode is part 3 of an ongoing series. If you haven’t yet heard the first two episodes, what I am about to say will likely not make that much sense. You should probably go back and listen to those two first, but hey, you do you, I’m not a cop.
Also, as a disclaimer, this episode was originally edited for content that might be considered grounds for a civil suit by the Congregation of the Oversoul. However, there are no longer any legal or practical grounds for exacting retribution against me, my colleagues, or SCWR as a whole. Seriously even if the Congregation still exists, it’s not as though my identity could even be used for anything anymore. Hell, I’ll go ahead and read my social security number live on air and everything. It’s [static] Have fun with that.
[lost place theme fades out]
On the last episode of Liminal Criminals: Jason Mackerel Degroot, having just founded the Congregation of the Oversoul, planned the next step of his rise to power with the help of his increasingly-dubious lieutenant, Holly Beech. Through a combination of charm, luck, and the poorly-planned application of credit card fraud, the two made their way from the Congregation’s ramshackle compound in Fugged Point California to San Francisco.
While there, they failed to re-establish connections with any of DeGroot’s colleagues from his former cults. They failed even harder at evangelizing to the disinterested pedestrians of Haight-Ashbury. They succeeded, however, at attracting the attention and devotion of Guy Fredericks, a founder of Phaethon Incorporated, a would-be visionary, and an all-around putz.
After a run-in with the law that reminded DeGroot and Beech of their precarious legal position, the two retreated back to Fugged Point, driven by Fredericks, their latest recruit. There they revised their game plan. Using Fredericks’ somewhat-vast and largely-legitimate resources, the Congregation would start a series of cheap New Age storefronts in San Francisco, which they would use to draw in money and unwitting recruits for the cult.
How did this pan out? More specifically, how did this fail, and how did the Congregation manage to fix matters? We’ll find out on today’s episode.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening…to Liminal Criminals.
With the new plans for the Congregation fresh in his mind, Guy Fredericks got straight to work. Within a matter of weeks, he and his contingent of followers had successfully established the Oversoul Wellness Company, then opened, staffed, and stocked three “holistic healing shoppes,” with “shoppes” being spelled with an e and two p’s, in San Francisco. In addition to the stock-standard menagerie of crystals and mass-produced new-age tchothkes, these stores also stocked a variety of complimentary pamphlets about a certain “wellness retreat” in the mountains that offered customers the chance to seek physical purity, mental clarity, and spiritual unity (for the low price of a thousand dollars per person).
Thus arose the first hitch in the Congregation’s mission. While Frederick’s grasp on logistics and business allowed him to get a functioning storefront off the ground in short order, he had no grasp on marketing. While pitching this wellness retreat to customers, Fredericks was forthcoming about the gory details of life in the Congregation. He informed would-be recruits that they would learn about the truth of God, the universe, and human morality by hanging out with an eighteen-year-old young man in a derelict trailer that had Crimini mushrooms growing out of cracks in the walls, on the outskirts of a town that viewed things like “televsion,” “paved roads,” and “Indoor Plumbing” as high-falutin’ luxuries. Fredericks’ sincere, bordering on aggressive, earnestness, did little to gain new converts, and somehow did even less to drum up repeat business. Despite marketing itself to alternative-leaning yuppies during the New Age renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s, the Oversoul Wellness Company brought in a grand total of zero recruits for the Congregation. It failed to turn a profit, and was operating at a loss for several months afterwards. It inspired an article in Seventh Sigma Magazine that not only speculated on Fredericks’ business acumen and mental health, but floated the possibility that this was either a money laundering scheme, a cry for help, some kind of avant-garde performance art, or a manifestation of some latent humiliation fetish.
In Fugged Point, things weren’t much better. Jason DeGroot, his plans stymied by his status as a potentially-wanted criminal, became restless and overwhelmed by anxiety. While his followers were making the most of their situation by taking odd jobs in town, Jason took to pacing up and down the length of the Portabello Palace, the Airstream that the Congregation still called home, and barking petty, often bizarre, orders to anyone he laid eyes upon. Former members of the cult reported being ordered to count the number of squirrels in the trees outside, organize the twigs around the Airstream, or to tell the clouds to stop glaring at Jason.
DeGroot’s lack of direction heightened the tensions between him and Holly Beech. Beech had anticipated that DeGroot would find renewed focus and faith from his time in hiding. “I figured that he would actually bother to write a holy text or something,” said Beech. “At the very least, I thought that he hold a couple of meetings with his flock. Instead, I considered my self lucky when he bothered to put on pants.” After the first month of DeGroot’s downtime, Beech started to drop subtle hints that he ought to use this time productively. She purchased a series of notebooks, and left them on the ancient sofa that DeGroot used as a bed. She began holding “Oversoul prayer hour,” with the remainder of the Congregation, hoping that DeGroot would be convinced to take over. She woke DeGroot up at 5 AM on a Sunday Morning by blasting an air horn into his face, screaming that he was a “no-good-piece of crap,” dragged him by his ankles out of the trailer as his followers stood by, to shocked to do anything and subsequently locked him out until he agreed to actually do something. After this last incident, which attracted a small crowd of amused townsfolk, DeGroot finally relented. He decided that to keep Beech off of his back, he would put together a series of holy texts to better guide any new recruits, which, at this point, had yet to materialize.
DeGroot created four volumes of scripture, which he called “the mysteries of the oversoul.” In the first text, he discussed the religion’s cosmology, and how all living beings and inanimate objects were manifestations of the same god. The second text was a discussion of morality: murder and assault were, of course, wrong, harming another person was tantamount to harming oneself. This second text, which he called “The Moralogy,” was suspiciously mum about other sins like lust, theft, or microwaving fish, and admitted as much. The third text, dubbed “The Question,” simply consisted of outdated federal and state laws regarding identity theft, copied verbatim from the Fugged Point Library’s collection of legal texts. The fourth and final mystery, dubbed “The Answer,” was a one-page document bearing the words, “YOU DO THE MATH, EINSTEIN,” written in all capital letters. DeGroot presented these completed texts to Beech, who, after several weeks of extensive editing, deemed them adequate.
DeGroot and Beech soon became concerned about the lack of incoming initiates to the Congregation. While Fredericks made regular calls to Fugged Point, insisting to the two that he was making good progress and that “someone would eventually see the light,” it soon became clear to DeGroot that his head recruiter had all the marketing skill of a moldy ham sandwich. By January of 1990, Jason, frustrated with Fredericks’ lack of progress and driven half-mad by the frigid Fugged Point winter, had had enough. [Deciding that he would rather risk imprisonment than go another day with the patron saint of social ineptitude, a title which DeGroot considered making official, at the helm of his cult’s recruitment efforts he called up Fredericks, demanding that he return to Fugged Point and give him a ride to San Francisco.
Jason DeGroot’s fears of being arrested upon returning to the city, as it turns out, were completely unfounded. As luck would have it, his face was completely forgettable. A single identity thief was not an especially important target for the San Francisco PD. He had long gotten into the habit of wearing turtleneck sweaters to cover up the neck tattoo he had gotten as a three-year-old initiate into the Order of Leviathan. With his freedom no longer at stake, he began to fix the Oversoul Wellness Company’s disastrous marketing materials. [flesh out]
Using his trademark gift for equivocation, prevarication, and bald-faced lying, DeGroot presented a new image of life in Fugged Point. Rather than saying that his religion operated out of a broken down Airstream that smelled of dying fungus and served as the rodent orgy capital of California, Jason told customers that the Congregation of the Oversoul was located in a latter day monastery that was tied into the very cycle of birth and death itself. Rather than admitting that this monastery located in the former home of the Society of People, the only group to use a particular piece of dance music as a weapon of terror, DeGroot explained that Fugged Point was a site of spiritual, artistic, and historical importance to America. Rather than telling prospective initiates that they would be used as a source of free labor and money, DeGroot offered them a once-in-a-lifetime experience to work with their hands and contribute to a cause greater than themselves, but that they had to act quick to take advantage of the opportunity.
With Jason DeGroot’s new marketing screed, people gradually began to flock towards the Oversoul Wellness Company’s healing shoppes, and, in turn, to Fugged Point. Upon reaching the center of the Congregation’s empire, those who weren’t savvy enough to turn around and flee immediately were welcomed with open arms by Holly Beech and her underlings. They were quickly coerced into abandoning all worldly possessions, including their car keys and, if they had them, their cellular telephones. After a night of “community bonding,” they were shaken awake, stripped of their clothes, given “initiates’ robes” that appeared to have been made from garbage bags and twine, then told to get to work on building new living quarters for the Congregation. Those who attempted to escape the cult into the center of Fugged Point found nobody willing to help them. While the townsfolk had little love for Jason DeGroot and his gang of teenaged miscreants, they had even less for the transplants from San Francisco, who they viewed with a mixture of suspicion, disdain, and that most American of all emotions, quasi-sadistic apathy. Would-be escapees would eventually be forced to wander back towards the outskirts of town, where they were inevitably captured by their fellow cultists, and sent for “corrective meditation” in the space under the trailer, which was lovingly referred to as the Spider Pit. Driven by DeGroot’s spiritual leadership and Holly Beech’s talent for management-through-psychological-warfare, unfortunate initiates into the Congregation of the Oversoul soon became its willing servants.
With a steady influx of new recruits, labor and money, the Congregation began to flourish. The cult’s headquarters steadily grew from a broken-down trailer to a shantytown of ramshackle cottages, and, subsequently, into a group of barracks that one might generously refer to as “livable.” By 1993, the Congregation had amassed enough money to begin construction a full-fledged compound in the mountains, using a combination of bribery, coercion, and malicious taxidermy to convince their neighbors to sell their land for pennies on the dollar. DeGroot began to use a series of shell companies, aliases, and paid goons to buy out, take over, or burn down establishments in town. Members of the Congregation soon took over the town council, PTA, and amateur bird-watching league. While Sheriff Price and Wolfie remained the official face of the law in Fugged Point, DeGroot soon established a squadron of ATV and ski-mounted enforcers to patrol the outskirts of town, with the stated mission of “keeping the peace” and the actual mission of keeping prying eyes out and attempted escapees in.
The Oversoul Wellness Company saw similar levels of success. What started as a front for the Congregation’s recruitment practices soon became a thriving lifestyle brand in its own right. Its line of “success totems” made of “genuine Himalayan Quartz” became a common sight on the desk of every startup mogul looking to recenter their chakras for better corporate synergy. Its “patented meditation pyramids” were commonplace in spas and alternative medicine clinics throughout America. Its “virility restoring wipes” were especially popular among teenagers and men who were unable to follow the Congregation’s recommended practices for semen retention.
With this new success came media attention, which Jason DeGroot handled with aplomb. He walked a line between “spiritual guru” and “young entrepreneur” in the press, offering canned bits of pseudo-profound wisdom to new-age magazines and bandying about generic motivational quotes to business publications. In Seventh Sigma Magazine’s article “Heal Thyself: How Jason DeGroot Saved the Oversoul Wellness Company,” the young cult leader was able to fill a five-page-long interview without saying anything substantive about his company practices, his business philosophy, or, indeed, anything about what the Oversoul Wellness Company actually did. Business historians still consider this a world record.
DeGroot’s success in the press soon gave him access to the greatest platform that any bright young charlatan could aspire to: daytime talk shows. DeGroot was given a chance to talk about the Congregation’s philosophy on Perspectives, a round-table discussion show and the bane of every waiting room in America. Beech and DeGroot were named as America’s newest power couple by CitiLyfe, the number one TV show among middle-aged urbanites who lost the will to live back in the 1970s. The Oversoul Wellness Company’s flagship product, the “All-In-One Healing Bag,” earned a seal of approval from lifestyle mogul Daliah, despite it literally being a burlap sack that was originally given to the Congregation’s newest initiates to sleep on, cry into, and wear over their heads when it was time to go into the Spider Pit. The first volume of the Mysteries of the Oversoul made its way onto the New York Times Bestseller List. Customers began to flood into Oversoul Healing Shoppes across the country, and, in turn, to the newest Mecca of American faux-spirituality: Fugged Point, California. And so, money and power began to flow into the hands of Jason DeGroot.
By the end of the 1990s, it seemed like nothing could go wrong for the young cult leader. How could such a juggernaut of American culture and spirituality come to such a disastrous end? We’ll find out in the next episode.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: They were not the first, and they will not be the last.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, I’ll be reading the ingredients lists from some empty cereal boxes for thirty minutes, and then I’ll be bringing you the news with another installation of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
Also, Krysta, if you’re listening, please. Please, I am begging you, see if Havel has found any more instrumental music. I have completely run out of content and if this keeps up I may need to start playing my sketch comedy videos from college, and nobody wants that.
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Follow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Subscribe to us, rate us, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Stare at the stains on the carpet. You know they’re trying to tell you something. You just have to figure out what. All links are in the show notes.