Elizabeth Clare Prophet, 1939-2009

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, seen in 1991, was the retired spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant. (Los Angeles Times)

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, retired spiritual leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant, which was based for several years in a Calabasas headquarters called Camelot and gained notoriety in the late 1980s for its followers' elaborate preparations for nuclear Armageddon, has died. She was 70.

Prophet, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Thursday in Bozeman, Mont., her legal guardian, Murray Steinman, told the Associated Press.

The church's beliefs combined aspects of the world's major religions, mixing Western philosophy with mysticism. Despite Prophet's illness, her videos and writings continued to dominate teaching in the church, which has transformed into a New Age publishing enterprise and spiritual university.

Prophet was called "Guru Ma" by her followers, who believe she received "dictations" from such "ascended masters" as Jesus, Buddha and St. Germain. She retired in 1999 from an active role in the church, which once had about 50,000 members.

Elizabeth Clare Wulf was born April 8, 1939, in Red Bank, N.J. She grew up in a Christian Science environment, she told The Times in 1980, but by age 9 had gone "to every church in town" only to find that none taught "the whole truth. . . . I found that within the self."

She was a political science student at Boston University when she met Mark L. Prophet, who in 1958 founded the Summit Lighthouse, which teaches practical spirituality using the world's major religions.

After earning her bachelor's degree, they were married in 1963.

In 1966, Summit Lighthouse moved to Colorado Springs. Mark Prophet died in 1973 and Elizabeth Clare Prophet assumed the leadership of Summit Lighthouse.

She founded the Church Universal and Triumphant, as well as Summit University and Summit University Press. The church moved to Pasadena in 1977 and bought the estate in Calabasas the next year.

In 1981, the church purchased a remote, 12,000-acre site in Montana adjoining Yellowstone National Park from magazine publisher Malcolm S. Forbes. Prophet, close associates and followers started moving to Montana in 1983, she said. "We felt we were divinely led here," she told The Times in 1987. "You know it is easier to meditate here than it is in Los Angeles. You have 10 million auras in Los Angeles and here you have wide open space."

The Calabasas property was sold to Soka University in 1986. The same year, a former church follower who had been expelled in a dispute over money was awarded $1.5 million in a suit against Prophet and the church. Gregory Mull alleged that he had been subjected to a form of thought control. Prophet's then-husband, church official Edward Francis, said the jury got inaccurate information and that the church and its beliefs "had been put on trial."

In the late 1980s, news reports said Prophet expected a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, and at least 2,000 church followers headed to the Montana ranch, stockpiling weapons and supplies. The ranch included a large underground bomb shelter.

Prophet told The Times in 1991 that newspapers had distorted her statements, "literally fabricating that I had predicted the end of the world. Even if there is a nuclear war, I believe we can survive it. I don't think it's the end of the planet."

Prophet's books included "Climb the Highest Mountain" with Mark Prophet in 1972 and "The Lost Years of Jesus" in 1984. She also founded, with Mark Prophet, a school based on the Montessori educational principles.

She is survived by her children, Erin, Moira, Tatiana, Sean and Seth.

news.obits@latimes.com