A writer recounts his childhood in a black Hebrew Israelite sect in this memoir.
Rabii (The Poems of Robin R. Rabii, 2016) was born in 1958 to African-American parents who had recently joined a new religious sect called the Helion Temple of Ancient Divine Wisdom—Order of Melchisedec. The physical temple at the center of this close-knit religious community was the center of his life: “I spent more hours in the Temple than in my own home.…My world was the Temple and there were very few activities in my young life that were separate from it.” As the author explains, the centrality of this faith in the life of his family had lasting consequences on his development: some positive, but many quite negative. As Rabii writes, the eclectic beliefs of the Order, which mixed Afrocentrism and elements of Judaism with more occult and New-Age teachings, informed his spiritual development. But the immense power of its founder—who was known as Mother or the Queen—and the cultic zealotry of her followers led to emotional and physical abuse, particularly against the children of the Order. According to the author, beatings, forced fasting, and threats of damnation were common means of control used by the Queen and her enforcers. So great was this abuse that Rabii eventually left the religion, though he details it now in order to shed light on this curious sect that remains active even to this day. Rabii’s prose is generally amicable, even when discussing the darker aspects of the Order’s behavior: “The next question you must be scratching your head about is why adults would allow themselves to be abused by others? And perhaps more importantly, why would parents accept the abuse of their children?” The book, which includes historical photographs, does not have the narrative structure or propulsive pace of the typical survivor memoir. At nearly 500 pages, including appendices, it’s a bit bloated (and this is only Book 1). But as a repository of information about this obscure religion, the work is invaluable. Readers interested in fringe religious movements and the ways cults take advantage of their members should find the Order to be a particularly absorbing case.
An intriguing, if somewhat uneven, look at an esoteric religious sect.