Guy Ballard (1878-1939) was a true American original. Born in Newton, Kansas, he became a mining engineer and moved to Chicago. There he met Edna Anne Wheeler (1886-1971), a professional harpist and native of Burlington, Iowa.
The couple had a strong mutual interest in various esoteric doctrines – especially theosophy. From this latter body of teachings came their acceptance of reincarnation and the idea of “Ascended Masters” (AMs) – beings (some once human) who are terribly enlightened and form a college of the wise among themselves to help mankind evolve. This information would stand Guy in good stead while hiking around California’s Mount Shasta in 1931, because it allowed him to recognise such creatures there, in addition to various Lemurians (inhabitants of a hypothetical lost land). The master of the latter turned out to be the renowned and deathless Count of St Germain, who passed on all sorts of wisdom to the enthralled Ballard.
Inspired by this, and by the now ongoing stream of messages from the Count and various AMs, the Ballards formed the St Germain Foundation and its “church arm”, the “I AM Activity”. By 1938, the duo had a million followers, who liked to call the Ballards “Ma” and “Pa”.
In 1941, Pa Ballard died, and was replaced at the helm by the couple’s son, Donald. But the following year both Ma and Donald were dragged into federal court for mail fraud, with the prosecution asserting that the Ballards did not believe their own doctrines – and the Internal Revenue Service revoked their tax-exempt status. But they soldiered on in the courts, and in 1957 all their privileges were restored.
Ma and Donald have since joined Pa with the Ascended Masters, but the Activity continues. It has many branches, and its doctrines have been widely imitated.