The Unity Church of Dallas sits on a wooded street not far from downtown, nestled beneath the shade of several large trees. In its 32 years, the brown brick building has been a refuge for those dissatisfied with mainstream religion. Put simply, it is a place where people go for answers they can't find elsewhere, which is why Jaired Conrad went there on a rainy night in January.
Conrad had come because his son, an elfin 8-year-old with pale skin, had been having problems. The boy, named Dusk, had been doing things that made Conrad worry, things the single father couldn't explain.
In school, for example, Dusk had a hard time concentrating. His grades were dropping, and he was disruptive in class, refusing to do his homework. When Conrad asked Dusk what was troubling him the boy gave him a hair-raising answer. He couldn't concentrate, he said, because he was hearing the thoughts of his classmates. It was a supernatural power the boy could not control. When Conrad relayed this to an administrator at his son's University Park elementary school, he was told he should have the boy tested and possibly put on medication. As it was, Conrad felt overwhelmed raising his two boys on his own, and the thought of putting his oldest on Ritalin upset him greatly. He hoped the event at Unity that night, a film screening, would give him some answers.
When they arrived the sanctuary was mostly full, so Conrad sat on the front row with his two boys, Dusk and Day, sitting beside him. The room went dark and the film began.
"Do you know what an indigo child is?" a man onscreen asked a group of firefighters. None of them had a clue. On came the doctors in white lab coats, the Chinese scientists, the clairvoyants, the wild-haired psychics and the bearded New Age gurus. These people were experts on the subject.
"We're watching humans evolve," explained one. "Just like we've evolved to now we have an opposable thumb, we're witnessing the human species evolve into a telepathic creature."
All over the world, these experts explained, a new breed of children is emerging who can read minds, predict the future and bend silverware through sheer brainpower. These kids, called indigo children, are surrounded by a blue aura, hence the name, and believed by some to be reincarnated beings. Disruptive, impatient and easily bored, indigos are commonly diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and then medicated until they stop seeing angels. If they are nurtured correctly, however, they will save the world.
"They are our future," said another expert, a clairvoyant named Phil Gruber. "And they are here to simply usher in a new golden age where love will triumph."
When the film was over, Conrad lingered in the sanctuary to ask questions. Then he went to find his boys, who had grown bored and left to play in the halls. He found them near the vending machines drinking Coke and talking to a stocky man Conrad didn't know. The man introduced himself and said he taught meditation at the church. "I work with indigos," he said, handing Conrad a business card. "Are you an indigo?" he asked Dusk. The boy looked at him shyly and nodded. "I'm an avatar," Dusk said. "I can recognize the four elements of earth, wind, water and fire. The next avatar won't come for 100 years."
The man seemed impressed. He crouched down in front of Dusk. "What am I thinking right now?" he asked. Dusk shrugged. "That's OK," he said, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Maybe we can try some other time when not so many people are around."
As Conrad left the building later that night, he looked bewildered by everything he'd heard. Some things in the movie seemed strange to him. He would need time to sort it all out. But as he watched his son run to their car he felt a sense of relief. He had come to the church with a question, and now he had an answer. His boy was an indigo child.
On that night, January 27, The Indigo Evolution premiered on about 200 screens across the country, mostly at yoga centers and alternative churches like the one Conrad was sitting in. For many, the film was their first exposure to a theory that had been quietly gaining momentum for more than 20 years. The press the film received--which included stories in The New York Times and on Good Morning America--signaled the movement had finally registered on the level of mainstream consciousness.
The indigo theory began with a San Diego parapsychologist in the 1970s, but it didn't really gain traction until 1999, when two self-help lecturers on the New Age circuit, Jan Tober and Lee Carroll, wrote a book that would become the bible on the subject.
Their book, The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived, went on to sell 250,000 copies. It identified the key characteristics of indigos, who, according to Carroll and Tober, represent "the most exciting, albeit odd change in basic human nature that has ever been observed and documented." Born with a feeling of royalty, indigos will not respond to authority or any form of discipline based in guilt, fear or manipulation. Most cannot function in traditional school systems, not because they have ADD but because they are smarter than their teachers. Eventually indigos will redeem the world, making it a tropical Eden free of trash, war and processed foods. But if somehow blocked from their purpose, indigos may turn dark, killing their parents, classmates or anyone else who stands in their way.
"These young children--every one of them I've seen thus far who kill their schoolmates or parents--have been indigos," Nancy Ann Tappe, the woman who first recognized the phenomenon, said in the book.
Other indigos have ended up homeless or in psych wards. One of them quoted in the book, a man named Ryan Maluski, said his breakthrough began shortly after his 18th birthday, which he spent in a psychiatric hospital. Upon his release, he decided not to go to college. Instead, he began studying Wicca and magic. He also learned that if he ate the right foods, like organic fruits and vegetables, he would be filled with energy and light.
"One huge breakthrough came for me when I was introduced to a live essence food called super blue-green algae," Maluski wrote. "After eating this for three days, my whole life started to change. It felt like circuits in my body were connecting."
To anyone schooled in New Age philosophy, the language of the book was familiar. It spoke of reincarnation, natural medicine and the channeling of spirits. To parents open to these ideas, the book's message was seductive. So-called problem children weren't problems at all, if cared for correctly. They were supernaturally gifted.
A 2001 book, The Care and Feeding of Indigos, furthered the idea that children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD are actually indigos. The answer to their problems wasn't Ritalin, author Doreen Virtue wrote, but a back-to-basics lifestyle built around exercise, time in the woods and natural foods.
Today, there are indigos everywhere, and the knowledge of how to care for them is expanding rapidly. There are summer camps for indigo children, annual conferences for their parents, two movies on the phenomenon, with another in the works, and a growing list of indigo-related books.
The indigo theory is even making inroads in the Bible Belt. In the Dallas area, a small group of adult indigos began meeting this month in Bedford. One of them is a single McKinney mom who believes she is indigo, as are her two grown sons. Another group, led by Unity Church members, wants to start a special school for indigos. One of them, a former Unity youth minister named Laura Morgan, believes her 17-year-old daughter is indigo. And finally, there are people like Conrad, New Age newcomers who may not realize exactly what it is they are buying into.
Jaired Conrad is a soft-spoken 37-year-old with a slightly doughy build and stringy brown hair. He often looks worried, at least when he is talking about his children. At times, he stumbles over his words, as if he is unsure of what he is saying or concerned about how he will be interpreted. "I'm very protective of my kids," he says.
Conrad works at an Uptown salon called Evolution, which occupies the bottom floor of an old gray house on Lemmon and Oak Lawn avenues. The salon, which is decorated with purple pillows and crescent moons, is owned by a self-described gypsy named Theresa Farr, who lives upstairs with her three dogs.
Before he was a massage therapist, Conrad dabbled in acting and made dresses, including wedding gowns, with his wife in a downtown Dallas boutique. The couple divorced five years ago, and Conrad's ex raised their boys until earlier this year, when Conrad decided they weren't getting enough attention (the couple has joint custody). Almost immediately after the boys moved in, Conrad said Dusk started giving him "a bit of a time." "At first I was trying to figure out what was going wrong with him and why," Conrad said. "Because to me he comes off as brilliant, but according to the school he wasn't coming off that way."
Dusk told his father he never had enough space at school. "He said people were always crowding him. I had no idea what he meant. I was flabbergasted." Only later did Conrad learn that what Dusk meant is that his mind was crowded with the thoughts of other children.
When Conrad brought Dusk's problems up at work, Farr said she might be able to help. She referred Conrad to one of her former clients, a woman named Karla Bass, a part-time art broker with a shared interest in the metaphysical. Bass, who has striking blue-gray eyes and often dresses in black, met with the boy and sensed something in him. Like her, the boy had been born with special powers, she told Conrad.
"She explained things that Dusk was carrying with him and the realm he was operating in," Conrad said. "She was the first person to suggest he might be an indigo. My first reaction was, 'What the hell is an indigo?'"
Conrad said he was skeptical at first, that it seemed a "poppycock kind of thing," but he decided to give the idea a chance. Farr then arranged for Dusk to meet with a spiritual guru from out of town, who sat down with the boy in a meditation room on the south end of the salon. "I'm not really clear what they talked about, but whatever it was, it worked wonders with my boy, because the next day at school everything was completely different," Conrad said. "It was over my head, it really was. He started talking about this light and that light, and Dusk and him were having a huge conversation without me about something that I completely didn't understand, and I was like, 'What's going on?' And it sort of just made me think I need to open myself up more to what's happening." The change at school didn't last, but Conrad was sure the experience had helped his son.
Being a massage therapist, he had heard theories about how energies, or chakras, run through the body. He hadn't put much stock in it, but now it was all beginning to make sense. He had never been a religious man either, but he'd always considered himself spiritual. Now, thanks to Dusk, his eyes were being opened.
When Conrad watched The Indigo Evolution at Unity, it was the confirmation he'd been looking for that everything he was hearing at work was true. And it was nice to know that he wasn't the only one raising a child with supernatural gifts. Now he just had to figure out the best way to raise such a boy.
The first worldwide conference on indigo children was held four years ago in Hawaii and drew about 600 people. Since then, there have been three other conferences--one in Orlando and two in Ashland, Oregon. The event, part summer camp, part instructional workshop, is an opportunity for indigos to meet others of their kind and do what indigos do--communicate telepathically, bend spoons through telekinesis and read blindfolded. Believers from as far away as Japan have flown in to attend the summer event.
Karla Bass was at the Orlando conference, and it was there that she saw indigos up close. It was also in Orlando where she first met James Twyman, the event's organizer and host.
Twyman, 42, is perhaps the most outspoken expert on the indigo phenomenon. It is primarily because of his two movies, a feature film released last year and the documentary Conrad watched at Unity, that the idea has reached the mainstream. To his followers, Twyman is a humble and sincere spiritual messenger. To his detractors, however, he is a con artist with delusions of grandeur.
Twyman lives on a 42-acre sanctuary outside of Ashland with a small group he calls the Beloved Community. The hilly resort includes several cabins, a labyrinth, a house where community workers and volunteers live and a mobile home converted into an office. At Twyman's right hand is a 72-year-old woman named Sharon Williams, a retired schoolteacher who gave her house away to follow him after reading his first book, Emissary of Light.
That book, published in 1997, put Twyman on the map in the New Age community. It was initially presented as the "true story of an incredible adventure" Twyman had while touring as a musician in war-torn Bosnia in the early '90s. In the book, Twyman journeys to a secluded mountainous area where he meets a mystical group of 12 disciple-like figures and one master teacher. Known as the Emissaries of Light, the secret society tells Twyman they have existed for thousands of years but are known only to those drawn to them. They have hand-picked Twyman to announce that the world is on the verge of a major awakening.
After the book was published, questions about its origin surfaced, and a New Age organization called New Heaven New Earth decided to take a closer look at Twyman. They concluded that much of the book had been lifted from other sources, including a three-volume set called A Course in Miracles (supposedly written by Jesus Christ through a Jewish psychologist) and the teachings of the Endeavor Academy, a Wisconsin group to which Twyman had once belonged. Within New Age circles, Endeavor was widely considered a cult, led by a former real estate broker and recovered alcoholic named Chuck Anderson who, according to NHNE, "exerted god-like powers over his followers, many of whom have given up everything they own to the community."
Twyman's response to the report was that he hadn't meant every word in his book to be taken literally. He insisted, however, that the 13 emissaries he'd met were real people he encountered in the flesh, but they were no longer on this physical plane. He had embellished certain parts to make the story more exciting, he acknowledged, but the essence of the book was true. He called it allegorical nonfiction.
Even within New Age circles, the NHNE report had little effect, and it did nothing to slow Twyman's rise. His follow-up, Emissary of Love, told the story of a similar encounter in 2001, when Twyman met with a secret group of psychic children called the Children of Oz in the mountains of Bulgaria. These children would help humans attain the next level of spiritual evolution. It was the first time Twyman had written about indigos, and it made him an instant expert on the subject.
Today, Twyman stands at the top of a small but growing New Age empire. His two films, Indigo and Indigo Evolution, have grossed more than $1 million. On his Web site, he sells books, movies, CDs, and New Age-inspired clothing and jewelry. He is not as wealthy as some of his counterparts, like best-selling author Neale Donald Walsh, but he has learned how to spin a good story into a healthy business.
At least that's how his critics see it. Lorie Anderson, who lives near Twyman's compound, has been closely watching the indigo movement. She says some of the services Twyman has offered on his Web site, such as online courses on telekinetic spoon bending, are scams (on her Web site she links to Hank's Magic Factory, which sells bending forks for $695). In a self-published article titled "Indigo: The Color of Money," Anderson paints Twyman as a fraud who is preying upon vulnerable parents overwhelmed by difficult kids. Physically and mentally handicapped children, for example, are often identified as indigos and used by Twyman to make money for the Beloved Community, Anderson says.
A handicapped girl called Grandma Chandra, for example, presents psychic readings at Beloved Community conferences using an alphabet board or mental telepathy for a fee, according to Anderson. A similar service is offered through a handicapped boy from Japan named Koya, Anderson says.
Twyman's not the only one making money off indigos, Anderson says, and he's not the only one who may have used misleading tactics to do so. Doreen Virtue, the California-based psychotherapist who wrote The Care and Feeding of Indigos and has known Twyman for 10 years, claims to have a Ph.D., but the school she got it from, California Coast University, was not accredited when she attended and is widely considered a diploma mill, meaning it has no physical campus and offers degrees for a flat fee. Virtue also says she worked at two psychiatric hospitals, one in Tennessee and the other in the Bay Area, but both hospitals have been closed for years, making it difficult to verify her claims.
"I notice that many New Age believers respond to misrepresentations as Oprah did when she first heard about James Frey's fictionalized memoir--the message 'resonated' with her deeply and rang true, and that made it OK," Anderson says. "Still, just like Oprah came around to value honesty, hearing about fabrications among leaders of the new child movement will turn off at least some believers, as well as people who just don't know what to make of it all."
What worries Anderson most is that Twyman's ideas are spreading. The Beloved Community now offers a seminary program that can be completed over three months through Internet classes and conference calls or in one month through intensive study at the Beloved Community. Tuition starts at $3,000. Once seminarians are ordained they can go on to pursue a master's degree or a doctorate in divinity for an additional fee. Upon graduation, Twyman suggests ministers can work with indigo and psychic children.
One of the 100 or so people enrolled in the seminary is Karla Bass, the woman who first recognized the indigo traits in Dusk.
Perhaps it is pointless to question the credibility of people like James Twyman or Doreen Virtue. They are, after all, people who believe in pink force fields and blue halos, ideas that seem certifiably crazy. Then again, a large chunk of Dallas--make that America--believes that a 33-year-old carpenter died, went to heaven and returned three days later a resurrected being. And there's no shortage of people making money off of that idea.
Ultimately, the amount of money people like Twyman and Virtue make from the indigo phenomenon, and the possibly deceptive means they use to do it, might not matter. What is truly dangerous about the indigo theory, experts say, is its implications for children, especially those with ADD or ADHD. Parents who buy into it could be putting their kids at risk, delaying proper diagnosis and treatment.
"All of us would prefer not to have our kids labeled with a psychiatric disorder, but in this case it's a sham diagnosis," Russell Barkley, a research professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, recently told The New York Times. "There's no science behind it. There are no studies."
The traits attributed to indigo children, Barkley said, are so general they "could describe most of the people most of the time." In Virtue's book, for example, 17 traits common to indigos are listed. Children who respond positively to at least 14 of them are likely indigo. Listed traits include a strong will, creativity and a desire "to help the world in a big way." Indigos are also proud, independent, look for lasting friendships and bore easily.
Such a broad definition, Barkley told the Times, reminded him of an academic exercise called "Barnum statements," after P.T. Barnum, in which a person becomes convinced a list of generic psychological characteristics apply especially to him or her.
Nick Colangelo, a University of Iowa professor who specializes in the education of gifted and talented students, first heard about the phenomenon in 2003 at a conference in Reno. On the flight home, he read the first indigo book, which he later said never should have been published. "The implicit message is that these children know more than adults, cannot be controlled by adults and are going to bring on a new world order," Colangelo wrote in an op-ed piece for the Davidson Institute, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit dedicated to gifted and talented students. "...The indigo children movement is not about children, and it is not about the color indigo. It is about adults who style themselves as experts and who are making money on books, presentations and videos."
Both Virtue and Twyman have acknowledged that there is no hard science to prove their theory, but that doesn't mean it isn't true, they say. The idea is catching on, Virtue says, because it resonates with people. Some are adults who never fit in but didn't know why. Others are parents frustrated by an increasingly fast-paced society that seems to have lost its moorings.
"We have overcrowded classrooms, gym classes being cut and a lot of schools selling fast food as lunch, so the conditions are ripe for hyperactivity. Students are being sent to the psychologist's office and almost automatically medicated," Virtue says. "Parents are looking for an alternative, and the indigo work provides that."
Virtue says she doesn't make money off of indigos, although her angel-therapy conferences, which often sell out hotel ballrooms, always include discussion of the indigo phenomenon. "I don't sell tickets to talk about indigos. I don't make money off it at all." But she didn't see anything wrong with people who do. "It's like anything else: If you provide a service you should be paid for it. So far, I haven't heard any parents complain, and if they did, I'm sure James [Twyman] would give them their money back."
As for Twyman, he insists everything he has made from movies, books and other indigo-related merchandise or events has gone back into the Beloved Community, an assertion shared by at least one person who knows him well.
"Believe me, there isn't a lot of extra money," says Sharon Williams, the woman who gave away her house to follow Twyman in 2000. "We've been on a paper-clip budget the last several months." Twyman is far from perfect, Williams says, but she doesn't question his motives. "I stay as long as I feel he is in integrity and it is a path that helps people. So far, the Spirit tells me to stay."
Twyman has addressed questions about his credibility head-on. At conferences, he sometimes stands up before audiences as big as 300 and tearfully apologizes for exaggerating portions of Emissary of Light. "We all make mistakes," says one of his followers.
It's easy to dismiss the indigo theory as wishful thinking and to be skeptical of those who are profiting from it. Yet to those who do believe, the phenomenon is very real. In Dallas, indigo believers include a university administrator, a personal trainer and a former sales executive with Coca-Cola. Sherylynn Boyd of McKinney, who says she raised two indigo boys, wishes she would have known about the phenomenon sooner. Both boys struggled to finish high school (one dropped out), even though they had been recognized as gifted and talented at their Richardson-area elementary school. "Back then, in the early '80s, there wasn't an explanation for it. You had this wave of kids who were exhibiting signs, and they were all diagnosed with ADD."
Dean Burress, a 28-year-old massage therapist from Houston, says he was one of those kids. It wasn't until last year that he recognized he was indigo. "I started to see myself clearly in the symptoms. I was always very intuitive, able to see and discern energies very quickly in people," he says. Burress and his girlfriend, who is also indigo, now work with indigo children and adults in the Dallas area. "As this becomes more mainstream knowledge, I think a lot of people in their 20s are going to look back on their lives and say, 'Oh my gosh, this makes so much sense. Now I understand what I was going through in high school,'" says Burress' partner, Jennifer Parigi.
Parigi and Burress sometimes work with Mike Connor, the man who gave Conrad a business card at the Indigo Evolution premiere. Conrad eventually called, and Connor picked up some clients because of the movie. He is working with four sets of parents raising indigos in Dallas. He thinks indigos are everywhere and that their influence is growing.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful, because when a higher percentage of the kids in the classroom are indigo and their teachers are from an indigo heritage, the balance of power will shift. They'll say, 'Man, let's stop the insanity. You can't keep pumping this crap into the dirt, into the water, into the air and killing each other for somebody else's god. Let's stop this. Let's think about peace.'
"It's a hard thing for a lot of people to grasp, because they're operating on a lower level of consciousness. These kids, they have achieved a higher stage of evolution. It's like they've up-leveled a bit. They were born with the software already built in."
Connor is now working on an audio documentary about the indigo phenomenon in Dallas and making plans to start a clinic for indigos.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Conrad took a break from work to talk about his son's progress. He was sitting in the meditation room at Evolution salon. The walls were gold, the rug beneath his feet was as thick as a horse blanket and on the sky-blue ceiling hung a Native American dream catcher made of feathers.
Conrad was accompanied by Karla Bass, who has become one of Dusk's spiritual mentors. She was dressed in black and carried with her a sheet of paper that listed the spiritual services she was now performing. A half-hour holographic repatterning session, for example, cost $100. She said her seminary work through the Beloved Community was going well, and she didn't see anything wrong with charging for the services she was learning. "If someone goes to counseling, they pay for it. It's the same thing," she said.
As she lit two candles, Conrad opened a book he had been holding on his lap. Inside were several colored-pencil drawings of human figures. One was a man surrounded by a blue aura. Another was surrounded by a rainbow aura.
"This is what Dusk sees," Conrad said.
It was a power the boy was learning to control, Bass said. But he had other powers he was using quite well.
"He can read you like a book," Bass said. "He knows things about your past lives."
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Conrad said Dusk had more or less read his mind the other day by telling him how much money he was carrying ($800). On another occasion he told an adult he had just met what her occupation was without knowing anything about her. His younger brother, Day, was exhibiting signs that he might be a rainbow child, which is the next stage of evolution after indigos. Day had become fascinated with gemstones and rocks and had recently told Conrad about a past life.
Dusk was still struggling in school and had demanded to be taken out and put into another school. Conrad was looking into it but didn't want to do something that would make his boy feel different from other children.
It wasn't easy raising boys like these, especially on his own, but he had a good support system. Both Bass and Farr, the gypsy woman who owned the salon, helped with the boys and were filling him in on what he didn't know. "I don't really see myself as a parent anymore," Conrad said. "I'm more of a guide, a facilitator."
It seemed like a strange thing to say, but what other choice did Conrad have? His boys were smarter than he was and more highly evolved. He sat back and listened to Bass talk about energies and reincarnation and the channeling of spirits. He seemed more at ease than before, more sure of what he was saying, more familiar with this new language he was learning. And yet he still looked a bit worried, as if he wasn't quite sure if everything he was hearing was true.