Paul Twitchell (born Jacob Paul Twitchell) (October 22, 1908 - September 17, 1971) was an American spiritual lecturer and writer, pulp fiction author, and founder of the religion known as Eckankar. He was accepted by the Eckankar members as the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master from October 22, 1965 until his death. He created and directed the development of Eckankar as a new spiritual teaching. He stated in his writings that his spiritual name is Peddar Zaskq.
Paul Twitchell obscured many details of his life. His year of birth is disputed, with 1908, 1910, 1912, 1920 and 1922 being suggested. It is given as October 22, 1908 in the Library of Congress Name Authority File. He was born in Paducah, Kentucky to Effie Dorothy and Jacob Noah Twitchell.
Twitchell attended high school in Paducah. He then attended Murray State College, a teacher's college, for two years, before going to Western Kentucky State Teachers College until 1934. He failed to graduate from either of those colleges.
Twitchell's first full-time paid job was as a painter, which he began in late 1936 via his father Jacob who worked as an Office Administrator at Marine Ways. His first marriage was to Camille Ballowe, from Paducah, in Providence, Rhode Island on August 12, 1942. He served in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II, from February 1942 until August 1945 when as Lieutenant Jg. he was honorably discharged. Twitchell became a correspondent for Our Navy magazine after the war for a short time. He later went on to become a freelance journalist.
Twitchell investigated a number of diverse spiritual movements and became an avid reader of spiritual, philosophical, religious and occult books at the Library. In 1950, he joined Premananda Giri's Self-Realization Church of Absolute Monism, an offshoot of Paramahamsa Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship. He lived on the grounds of the church, and edited its periodical, The Mystic Cross. He was asked to leave the church in July 1955, due to personal misconduct. A few months later he formally separated from his wife, who stayed on at the fellowship for a time. Their divorced was finalized in 1960.
Twitchell was initiated by Kirpal Singh into Ruhani Satsang, a form of Surat Shabd Yoga or Sant Mat, in October 1955 in Washington DC. He immediately became a devoted student of Singh, acknowledged experiences during Initiation and later on wrote to his master of his appearing in Twitchell's apartment and dictating discourses to him which he would type up and mail to Singh in New Delhi, India. By 1966 reports to Singh that Twitchell was teaching a program very similar to Ruhani Satsang caused a serious disagreement between them which was never repaired. Weeks before Twitchell died he sent a letter to Singh denying he ever saw him as a 'master', denied that he ever received any initiation from Singh because Singh had no power to give initiation, and claiming that Twitchell's spiritual achievements were gained years before they met. Twitchell also suggested that he never spiritually benefited from his connection with Singh.
However, in December 1963 Twitchell reportedly asked Singh to allow him to dedicate a book, The Tiger's Fang, in Singh's name. Twitchell wanted Singh's help to get it published and sent the manuscript for Singh's approval. Twitchell never received a positive response from Singh and following their disagreement in 1966 he asked for its return. He published it himself in 1967.
Twitchell's first known connection with L. Ron Hubbard (also a US Naval Reserve Officer during WW2 and pulp fiction author) was around 1950 during the Dianetics period. He again became involved in the Church of Scientology from about 1956 to 1959, becoming a member of the Church's staff and one of the first Scientologists to achieve the status of clear it was claimed. Twitchell taught classes, audited others, wrote articles for the magazines, and other activities for Scientology. He made many long term friendships during this time with the exception of Hubbard himself who later, circa 1968, listed Twitchell and Eckankar on their Suppressive Persons/Groups list.
Moving to Seattle WA in late 1960 after the death of his sister Kaydee (Katharine) in 1959, he met Gail Ann Atkinson in 1962. She was working part-time at the Library, where they met, while doing an under-graduate degree. Twitchell later introduced her to the Ruhani Satsang teachings, as well as others, and Gail was also formally initiated by Singh in early December 1963 in San Francisco, during his second tour of the USA. At the same time Twitchell relocated to San Francisco permanently. They married soon after in January 16, 1964, when Twitchell began more seriously writing and compiling materials about his new teaching, Eckankar. The first draft manuscript for The Far Country was written during this year. Twitchell also began having articles about Eckankar published in various newspapers and magazines.
In late 1964, they moved south to San Diego, where Twitchell gave his first lectures on Eckankar and what was then termed the "bilocation" technique, which he would later call Soul Travel. Gail quit her studies to work full-time so that Twitchell could dedicate himself to establishing Eckankar as a new business venture. In spring 1965, he began a long-term series of regular lectures and workshops on Eckankar at the California Parapsychology Foundation in San Diego and also started selling monthly "Discourses" to interested students. By late 1965 the Twitchells had together founded the Eckankar Corporation as well as Illuminated Way Press, registering both as companies in California.
Some people believe it was Twitchell's second wife who suggested that he adapt some of his spiritual education into a new religion. Twitchell said her encouragement was a spark for him to do something more with his writings. Critics state that at first Twitchell claimed his teachings were new but that he eventually referred to them as an ancient science that pre-dated all other major religious belief systems. Others say this interpretation is based on comments Twitchell made before he officially started Eckankar, when he was promoting what he called his Cliff-Hanger philosophy, which was an outsider's view on modern society. Those were indeed his own views and ideas. However, once he launched Eckankar in October 1965, he always referred to it as being an ancient teaching. In his book Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds, Twitchell lays out wide-ranging examples of the teaching down through history, while also explaining his own personal experiences with his teacher, ECK master Rebazar Tarzs. The actual existence of "Rebazar Tarzs," like that of other Theosophical and ECK masters, remains disputed, since he is not an historical figure, is not physically accessible, and has made no public appearance.
After founding Eckankar, Twitchell wrote and published a series of books and personal study discourses, as well as giving talks around the world, writing thousands of letters to students, and continuing to write articles for magazines. He wrote a series of articles shortly after starting Eckankar that some critics have raised concerns about. In a series that Twitchell referred to as The Man Who Talks To God, he poked fun at gurus, including himself. He says that he wrote the series in exchange for getting a booklet printed on Eckankar, during a time when he couldn't afford it himself. In that column he gave out spiritual advice, claiming to communicate with God about the problems of those who wrote to him. He included prophecy, predicting that the Vietnam War would end in 1968 and that Lyndon Johnson would be elected President of the United States for a second time. Many of his answers were concluded with the words "I HAVE SPOKEN!"
Twitchell died of a heart attack on September 17, 1971 in Cincinnati while attending an Eckankar seminar. Despite having formulated the Eckankar doctrine of named succession, he had not in fact designated anyone as his successor and his sudden death created difficulties for the movement's leadership group. It fell upon his widow to make the final decision, and she selected Darwin Gross, who was himself succeeded later by Harold Klemp.
In 1984, Harold Klemp, the spiritual leader of Eckankar—which keeps an archive of Twitchell's writings—commented on Twitchell as a writer: "He was an avid letter-writer, and he always kept a carbon copy... At one time Paul made his living by writing for pulp magazines. He also wrote public-relations copy for the Navy... He sincerely cared about spiritual unfoldment and growth. He went through volumes of books on consciousness, a subject which was not in vogue in those days... he thrived on the study of different philosophies."
Klemp also describes Twitchell as a master compiler: "The high teachings of ECK had been scattered to the four corners of the world. The different masters each had parts and pieces of it, but they attached little requirements... You must be a vegetarian, or you have to meditate so many hours a day... Paul gathered up the whole teaching and tool the best. Though it may be strange to say, in this sense I see him as a master compiler. He gathered the golden teachings that were scatted around the world and made them readily available to us."
In Paulji, A Memoir, Patti Simpson reveals how Twitchell put her in charge of a monthly communication to students called the Mystic World. It often contained many mistakes: stories that were supposed to continue on a certain page but didn't, stories stopping in mid-sentence, or the wrong names under pictures. Twitchell told her, "You have no idea... how much help it will be to me if you can learn how to take care of this publication for me. I have so many books to get out, and I need to spend time on them."
Twitchell told biographer Brad Steiger that he expected The Tiger's Fang to be controversial, having announced that it "would shake the foundation of the teachings of orthodox religions, philosophies, and metaphysical concepts."
In a 2006 article published in the 5 volume Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, David C. Lane, a former follower of Sant Mat, stated that some of Twitchell's Eckankar books contained passages from other authors' books without proper citation. In particular, Lane claims Twitchell's 1966 book The Far Country plagiarizes over 400 paragraphs from the books With a Great Master in India and The Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson without any acknowledgement. Three other books of Twitchell's, including The Tiger's Fang, Letters to Gail, and Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, contain "almost verbatim" extracts from Johnson's 1939 book The Path of the Masters according to Lane. Lane notes that Twitchell wrote in at least two publications that he considered a book edited by Johnson—Sar Bachan—to be his "Bible".
Harold Klemp has responded to the plagiarism allegations by stating that Twitchell's role was that of "master compiler", saying "He gathered the golden teachings that were scattered around the world and made them readily available to us." In 2007, a member of Eckankar's clergy and Eckankar apologist since 1983, Doug Marman, published The Whole Truth, a biography of Paul Twitchell that disputes claims Lane made in The Making of a Spiritual Movement. Lane has published commentary on Marman's book, reaffirming his view that Twitchell plagiarized several authors.
Lane has also alleged that Twitchell lied about his past and tried to cover up his earlier associations. Marman has responded by presenting documentation related to Twitchell's career and personal information.