Christine Cole is a visual artist who hails from Canada. A three-time Phoenix Project participant, she has created works that were not only well received, but also sought after for purchase. Christine’s artistic interest is lifelong: “I always loved drawing and painting from the time I could hold a crayon.” Discouraged from pursuing an art education, however, she got a degree in biochemistry, but found the work unsatisfying and began to take art courses, which she has continued to this day.
While at the university, Christine also took a yoga course, which led to “some unusual mystical experiences.” She views these as, “a gateway into Eastern mysticism and the New Age movement,” explaining that they led her to an interest in psychic phenomena and occult involvement, where “it felt like a whole new world had opened up.”
In 1980, traveling alone by bus across the United States, Chris was exposed to various “religions and pseudo-religions”: Christianity, Transcendental Meditation, est, Scientology, and New Age groups. In Denver she met a Unification Church member who seemed to share her esoteric interests and told her of a gathering to discuss the intersection of Christianity with Eastern and New Age religions. She decided to attend.
I was taken to a lovely chalet in the Rocky Mountains and ‘love bombed’ by a group of clean-cut, bright, upper-middle-class young people who were doing ‘charity work.’ I didn’t find out they were Moonies until two weeks later, but by then the psychological coercion they used had pulled me in and I had ‘snapped.’ I was soon recruiting others to come to their retreat center and to ‘find God’.
Not unlike other artists in cult environments, Christine says that “while [I was] in the group there was always talk about my being able to use my artistic talents.” However, with the daily schedule of “early prayers, lectures, finding new recruits and fund raising,” Christine found that there was “no time to even think, let alone pursue our love of art.”
Christine states that she did not “consciously draw or paint about my cult experience until the call for submissions came for the first Phoenix Project many years” after she left the Unification Church with the help of friends. While sketching my three rough pieces entitled Entry, In the Cult, and Exit, I tried to capture my feelings and experience in visual form. Although I was not impressed with the finished pieces, I found the process to be very healing and cathartic. It has been especially gratifying to find that others were touched by, and could relate to my works.
The painting Breaking the Chains was done for the third Phoenix Project and is somewhat of a self-portrait. It depicts the freedom that I feel in breaking free, not only from the hold that the cult had on me, but [also] from other bondages in my life that I have been released from.
Christine lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Jeff. She works as a teacher’s assistant and is the mother of two grown sons and a teenage daughter. She has appeared on television and in a film on ex-members, and has produced painting during church services and in exhibition.