Over the course of more than 500 past lives, Amy Carlson was once Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc, among other famed historical figures. That is, at least, according to followers of the Love Has Won cult leader.
Carlson, whose enshrined and mummified corpse was discovered by police inside a Crestone, Colo., home on April 29, 2021—several weeks after her death at the age of 45—had spent years building up a devout following of people who believed she was the incarnation of a deity-like savior they referred to as Mother God.
In Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God, a three-part HBO docuseries which premiered on Nov. 13 and is also streaming on Max, director Hannah Olson (Bady God) chronicles the life and death of Carlson, and how she convinced her supporters she was a holy being destined to save humanity by taking on its sins.
What is Love Has Won?
Through interviews with Love Has Won devotees—a number of whom appear to remain believers in the cult's doctrines—as well as livestream footage and other video shot by members of the group, Olson shows how Carlson, with the help of a string of male partners she referred to as Father God, came to preside over a house of about 20 acolytes who worshipped her.
The first episode of the Safdie Brothers-produced series details how Carlson connected with her first Father God counterpart, Amerith White Eagle, on the spiritual community message board Lightworkers.org in the mid-2000s and subsequently left her family and moved to Colorado to be with him. As she became more assured of her own self-professed godliness, Carlson started spreading her message online. She moved on to new Father Gods whose partnership better suited her goals and began recruiting people to come and live alongside her at her "mission house."
Carlson's teachings revolved around the idea that she was the 534th incarnation of Mother God, a deity who was destined to lead exactly 144,000 believers out of the superficial reality of our "3-D world" and into a fifth dimensional plane of higher existence. To accomplish this, she needed to regularly commune with "The Galactics," an "etheric team" of spiritual ambassadors that she said was largely made up of deceased celebrities like Robin Williams, John Lennon, and Michael Jackson.
"[Olson] makes the appeal of Mother God’s largely unhinged worldview legible," TIME TV critic Judy Berman writes of the series' handling of the more bizarre tenets of Love Has Won. "Many of her followers’ backstories include poverty, abuse, addiction, or just lack of opportunity; one explains how graduating high school amid the 2008 recession exposed the trappings of material success as an illusion. Carlson shared those experiences. And some of the ideas she synthesized from them were startlingly rational."
The internet played an integral role in the workings of Love Has Won, with Carlson and her disciples using social media to not only communicate with current and potential new followers, but also shill supposed wellness products and dubious cure-alls like colloidal silver. The Love Has Won belief system also often overlapped with dangerous and hateful conspiracy theories perpetuated by supporters of the QAnon movement and other radical groups.
What happened to Amy Carlson?
After several years of declining health brought on by what a coroner's report would later describe as "alcohol abuse, anorexia, and chronic colloidal silver ingestion," Carlson and her followers abandoned their Colorado headquarters for Hawaii. However, they were forced to leave the state in September 2020 following protests over cultural appropriation.
Around seven months later, police arrived at the group's Colorado compound to find seven of Carlson's followers living alongside her corpse, which was mummified and adorned with fairy lights and glitter. Miguel Lamboy, one of Carlson's former Father Gods, had reported her death and the state of her remains to authorities earlier that day. Saguache County coroner Tom Petty told The Independent in May 2021 that deputies believed she died weeks before she was discovered.
Her followers claimed that, rather than passing away, Carlson had "ascended" to the fifth dimension after assuming all of mankind's pain. The seven adults in the house were arrested and charged with abuse of a corpse. They also faced child abuse charges after law enforcement found a 13-year-old and two-year-old in the house. All of the charges were eventually dropped.
Some former members of Love Has Won have accused Carlson of brainwashing and abuse. “The ideology that [Carlson] espoused took on a life of its own," Olson told Vulture. "Her followers were so intent on her being God that they neglected her humanity.”
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Taylor Swift Is TIME's 2023 Person of the Year
- Meet the Nation Builders
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- Column: It's Time to Scrap the Abraham Accords
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- In a New Movie, Beyoncé Finds Freedom
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Megan McCluskey at email@example.com