Down from the Mountain
Albert Whitman Teen
discussion guide
for book clubs
and classrooms
THE PIRATE TREE: Author Elizabeth Fixmer takes on religion, spirituality and cults in her newest book
Wisconsin State Journal
"Author Explores Cults in YA Thriller"
Daily Union
"Fixmer's Down from the Mountain Explores Cult"
  Down from the Mountain  
“You’ll be going into town among the heathens,” Reverend Ezekiel says, “but I’ll be watching you to make sure you stay pure and sweet.”
He smiles in a strange way I’ve never seen before.
It makes me feel like running.
If only Eva could ask the many questions that bubble up when Ezekiel says and does things she doesn’t understand. But questions only get her in trouble. She is to be obedient to God’s will, subservient, unquestioning. Only Reverend Ezekiel knows what God wants of her and everyone else at Righteous Path.
But as Eva’s life becomes more complicated, her responsibilities increase, and her mother’s pregnancy poses a risk to her very life, Eva can’t help asking more and more questions, even if she can’t ask them out loud.
Fixmer illustrates the inner workings of a cult, illuminating Eva's psychological progress while exposing the leader as a con artist. Eva's doubts and fears as well as her growing courage are communicated clearly in her first-person, present-tense narration. The action and the psychological realism combine to make an intriguing story, with believable characters and events. An absorbing treatment of a fascinating subject.
Fixmer, a therapist who has counseled former religious cult members, has written a taut psychological drama with believable and sympathetic characters. The first-person narrative sustains a tense mood throughout, with frequent referrals to tragic real-life cults, such as the Branch Davidians of Waco, TX. VERDICT Readers will be caught up in this realistic story of a brave girl rebelling against a fundamentalist society.
Fixmer’s references to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books persuasively contrast the image of a loving god against the harshness of Reverend Ezekiel in this absorbing and smartly paced novel.
Behind the Story
What's Real and What's Not in Down from the Mountain?
Righteous Path is a fictitious cult but there is nothing fictitious about the existence of cults in America. Experts estimate that as many as 5,000 cults may exist in this country alone, many of which are religious cults. “Religious cult” is a pejorative term used to describe a fringe religious group. What makes a cult “fringe” is that it takes issue with at least one basic tenet of organized religion. It’s usually led by a single individual who sees himself (or occasionally herself) as God or as a prophet graced with an inside channel to God. He believe, therefore, that he’s privy to the truth of who God is and what God wants from each of us. Salvation is often the reward for obedience to the leader. What makes the term pejorative is the number of cults that have made headlines over the past several decades in which adherents have suffered major consequences, even death by following the commands of the leader.   
In Down from the Mountain, Ezekiel refers to one such tragedy as a cautionary tale. In 1993, during a stand-off with federal agents, eighty-three members of a group known as the Branch Davidians’ burned to death in a compound near Waco, Texas. Among the dead were scores of children along with the group’s leader, David Koresh. The cause of the fire remains unclear, but surviving Branch Dravidians’ claim it was set by government officials. Ezekiel sees the adherents as victims and this becomes his justification for why every member must learn to shoot.
People often wonder why the followers don’t just up and leave. It sounds logical but is often far more complicated than simply walking away. The psychological barriers—mind control, attacks on self-esteem, often hunger and exhaustion, fear of retribution, fear of hell—make it very difficult. Additionally, members are often geographically isolated and have cut off all ties to family and friends. It’s not unusual for members to give up their money, property and possessions to the cult leader as a sign of faith. Loyalty to the cult leader may also play a role in keeping members from leaving. Finally, members may not be allowed to leave. Getting out requires escaping.
Recovery can be a long, difficult process. When I started a psychotherapy practice in Denver many years ago, I met a man who was involved in de-programming. This sometimes involved kidnapping a participant in a cult and locking them up until the de-programmer could “undo” the damage brainwashing had done to the member. That seemed counter-intuitive to me, but it jump-started my interest in religious cults and I proceeded to read whatever I could find.
My interest turned out to be helpful when a few years later I worked as an expert essay writer with a client who was actively involved in a cult and would find ways to come and see me. Soon after that I had occasion to work with other clients who had left dangerous cults and were working to recover their identities, self-esteem, and confidence in their capacity to make decisions. For some people the wounds were on all levels, emotional, social, sexual and spiritual. But they all rallied, stronger from their experiences.
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