“I Am” was founded by Guy W. Ballard (1878-1939) and his wife Edna Anne Wheeler Ballard (1886-1971). According to Guy Ballard’s account, in 1930 while he, as a mining engineer, was engaged in exploration on the slopes of Mt. Shasta in northern California, he encountered a Master in the theosophical tradition, the Comte de SAINT GERMAIN. This personage introduced Ballard to past lives of his, taught him the power of mental affirmation, and introduced him to other Ascended Masters. Those events are recorded in Ballard’s first books, written under the pseudonym Godfre Ray King, Unveiled Mysteries (1934) and The Magic Presence (1935).
These works combine theosophical and “New Thought” doctrine with fast-paced narrative. Basic teachings include reincarnation, affirmation of the divine “Mighty I Am” Presence individualized above each person’s head and the reality of the Ascended Masters. Those mighty beings form a hierarchy, embracing Saint Germain, Jesus and many others who had so purified themselves that they did not undergo death, but ascended directly to a higher state where they could be of service to humankind. “I Am” also affirms an eschatological (concerned with the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell) role for America and has always had a distinctly patriotic, “right wing” atmosphere (in U.S. terms) about it.
In 1932 Ballard rejoined his wife in Chicago, where they founded the Saint Germain Press and began holding classes to promulgate the newly-revealed teachings. Guy and Edna Ballard, and their son, Donald, were declared to be the only “Accredited Messengers” of the Ascended Masters. As they traveled across the U.S. in the depression-bound 1930s, their movement, though highly controversial, evoked a remarkable response, numbering followers perhaps in the millions by the end of the decade.
Then two events deflated its brief success. Guy Ballard died suddenly in December 1939; many believers wondered why the prime Accredited Messenger had expired in the normal manner rather than ascending as Masters were expected to do. Then, early in 1940, Edna Ballard and several other leaders of the movement were indicted by the U.S. federal government on charges of mail fraud. The sensational case was finally terminated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944 and 1946 rulings declaring it beyond the power of the courts to determine the truth or falsity of religious claims; these judgments have since become landmark freedom of religious decisions for the United States. After the trauma of these ordeals, the movement maintained a low profile. It survived, however, and eventually resumed modest growth, by the 1980s reporting some 300 temples and sanctuaries in the United States, and more overseas. A major center is located at Mt. Shasta and headquarters are in Schaumburg, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Its temples, ornamented in the rococo white and gold of Saint Germain’s era, and focused on an often-mobile diagram of the “I Am” Presence, are striking. Worship centers on the chanting of “decrees” directing energy to problem areas of self and world.
The Summit Lighthouse movement of Elizabeth Claire Prophet had its origins in the “I Am.”
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