December 19th, 2014
Among The Taylorians: My Time With The Cult Of Taylor Swift
Blinding, shocking pink covers the walls of the Taylorian compound in Coral Springs, Florida. According to my guide, the tone was scientifically matched to the exact color that Taylor Swift wore in a 2008 photo shoot.
This is how things operate in the world of the Taylorians, a group that claims 1 million “Taylor-strong” members in all 50 states and around the world. Their headquarters in Florida was built by a reclusive billionaire said to have connections to the international arms trade and an affinity to the young singer.
Taylorians bristle at even the suggestion that they are a cult, describing their group as “a way of being and seeing the world” that outsiders often don’t understand.
My guide tells me that her day has been “so Taylor.” They use this expression a lot.
The roots of the Taylorian faith are difficult to uncover. Its devotees insist that the popular myth – that it began as a fan club created by then 16 year old Jessica Winthrop in Tallahasee and spread virally via the web – is simply “the work of outsiders who want to devalue our work.”
The undisputed leader of the Taylorians is Marcia Swift, a 43 year old advertising executive who left her lucrative career in order to follow “the way of the Swift” as she puts it. Born Marcia Teegarden, she changed her last name to Swift after working her way up the Taylorian Elevation Scale (TES) to level 13. All level 13 Taylorians have had their last name changed to Swift, “in order to honor the Original” as Marcia tells me.
Marcia says she likes to think of Taylorianism like a religion, hinting that they believe that Taylor Swift has unearthly origins and was “placed with us on this plane for a reason.”
Pressed on the issue, none of the Taylorian leadership would tell me what that reason is, but Dr. Phillip Engle of Harvard’s Advanced Studies Of Religious Orders program told me that his study of the group believes that Swift “is a living god, on Earth to awaken us to a simpler time where the purest expression of love is a radio-friendly musical lyric.”
Engle insists that the darker side of Taylorianism is “seen as a necessary evil” in order for the world to achieve “full Taylor” as is described in the church’s literature.
Back at the Taylorian compound, where each room has Swift’s lucky number 13 etched into it at strategic, GPS-designated points, Marcia dismisses “biased” media accounts of the group’s activities.
“This is hard to understand,” she says as she sips a Diet Coke (the only beverage available on the compound after Swift signed an endorsement contract with the company), “but what Taylorians are able to do is – fix things in the world.”
“When I see someone hurting, or in a bad situation, I know that I have a special something inside of me that can heal it. I look at it, and I say one of The Original’s lyrics – depending on the situation – and it can fix it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
There has never been any independent verification of this ability, but hundreds of Taylorians have testified that they have witnessed “Swiftacles.”
My tour guide took me to the compound’s “study room” where a team of devotees interprets and debates “messages from the Original” that are disseminated via Twitter, Facebook, and in her interviews.
One of the researchers, a young man named Gary, told me he found “a path” in the lyrics to We Are Never Getting Back Together. His voice grew increasingly animated as he walked me through the words.
“You see? It’s right there. Taylor’s telling us how the universe was born. It began, then it blew apart – and it’s never getting back together.” He turned to me and grabbed my shoulders and continued, “never ever.”
Despite Taylorianism’s peaceful appearance, several members of congress have expressed concern over the group’s activities. Online reports insist that the Taylorians have assembled hundreds of weapons in preparation for a “Tayloring of the planet,” a phrase found in documents stolen from the compound and posted online.
One member of the group, Ethan Johnson, was arrested in Texas after he tried to illegally import uranium from the Middle East. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Johnson admitted under oath that he was under direct orders to acquire material to assist in bringing about “the Tayloring,” insisting that it would be “as beautiful as the dress the Original wore to the 2009 Grammys.”
While Marcia admits that Johnson was a Taylorian, she insists he was a part of a breakaway sect. “Harries” are members of the Taylorians who believe that Swift is simply “on a break” from her relationship with One Direction’s Harry Styles.
Marcia claims that “the Tweets of Late 2012” are church doctrine, proving that any possible Swift-Styles reconciliation is “impossible.” She said they view the Harries as a splinter group without any church sanction, and that they disavow their activities.
The Taylorians also claim that their wealthier members are responsible for their opulent headquarters and the posh satellite offices found in twenty U.S. cities and in 7 European capitals. But Internet detractors again insist that the Taylorians operate an underground drug trafficking network, and rationalize it by insisting that “the greater Swift” is served by dabbling in illegal business.
The church denies these allegations and refuses to comment on them on the record.
Taylorianism continues to grow. The recent release of Swift’s Red album has reportedly increased their membership rolls by 9 percent, and despite the claims that at least two of the tracks contain a post-hypnotic suggestion brought on by repeat listening, parents continue to buy her albums (some, reportedly under threat of violence by their children).
As I leave the compound, my guide showed me the “13” tattooed on the back of her hands, and told me to “be well, be Taylor.”
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