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Keeper of Lighthouse cult cried wolf too often

The Age, Australia/November 4, 2009

Elizabeth Prophet, who was head of the Summit Lighthouse and the Church Universal and Triumphant, a New Age religious cult that she enjoined to prepare for nuclear Armageddon, has died of Alzheimer's disease in Bozeman, Montana, in the United States. She was 70.

She took over leadership of the cult in 1973 on the death of her husband, Mark Prophet, who founded the Summit Lighthouse in 1958 to spread a message that combined elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Theosophy.

In 1975, she extended the work of the Lighthouse and established the Church Universal and Triumphant, a formal religion with ceremonies and sacraments. The teachings were derived from messages supposedly transmitted by the Ascended Masters, a pantheon of beings ranging from Buddha and Jesus Christ to the ''head of the Cosmic Secret Service''.

Worldwide membership was once estimated at more than 30,000 adherents, who revered Prophet as a spiritual leader with a direct link to God. In the late 1980s, she warned of an impending nuclear strike by the Soviet Union against the US. More than 2000 of her followers flocked to the church's compound in Montana, near Yellowstone National Park. They stockpiled an arsenal of assault rifles and armoured vehicles, as well as food and clothing, in underground bomb shelters. When nothing happened, they returned home.

Elizabeth Clare Wulf was born at Red Bank, New Jersey, and was brought up as a Christian Scientist. Educated at Antioch College, Ohio, and Boston University, she worked at the United Nations as an assistant to the delegates' private photographer.

After a failed first marriage, in 1963 she married Mark Prophet, whom she had heard speak in Boston. Together they ran the Summit Lighthouse, and wrote a book, Climb the Highest Mountain (1972).

In 1986, an expelled church follower was awarded $US1.5 million in a suit against Prophet and her church. Gregory Mull alleged that he had been subjected to a form of thought control. Membership declined in the 1990s after another false prediction that doomsday was nigh.

Prophet is survived by three daughters and two sons, one of whom is the spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant.

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