The word cult is a rather subjective term. Depending on who you are asking, I could be concidered a cult. I have refrained from including Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Mormons and the like here due to fact that, regardless of my feelings on the subject; the majority of the world does not see them in this light. The definition of cult is as follows:

cult (kult)
n.

  1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
  2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
  3. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
  4. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
  5. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
  6. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
  7. The object of such devotion.
  8. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.
n. attributive.

Often used to modify another noun: a cult figure; cult films.


I have met janitors that are cult leaders under these particular definitions; still, I find cults interesting and so I have included a list of the more prolific, deadly and just plain stupid cults here. If it has to do with UFO's, guns, inbreeding or thetans; it's here. If it exists and it isn't here, feel free to message it to me or add it yourself.

It's worth noting that the "cults" listed here are groups of people whom have either killed people (sometimes many people), themselves or are concidered to be a possible danger to themselves or others (with the exception of "the wh0rg", which is a cult that I started).

In my callow youth,1 I hung out a lot with members of NRMs.2 It was ethnographic research, and my actual experiences contradicted a lot of conventional wisdom about these groups.

Though a number of people were concerned that these folks with try to convert me, none of them (except the Jews for Jesus) even tried.

Others were concerned that the danger was not in explicit attempts at evangelization but in some form of insidious and subtle mind control.3 Looking at the actual membership numbers and group activities, I found myself asking instead, if these people are so good at mind control, why are their attrition rates so high?

I was also told by worried friends and family that these groups were basically all alike and dangerous to boot. In fact, I found that, as David Bromley and Anson Shupe pointed out in "Strange Gods," these groups were more different than alike. What was strangely similiar was the set of urban legends told about such a diverse collection of sectarian movements. Moreover, the weird tales told about them were strangely parallel to stories told by Protestants about Roman Catholics in the U.S. in the 19th century, which was a place and time when Catholics were considered pretty far out.

On the whole, I'd say that any random member of the population is more likely to be bitten by a rabid bat and die of rabies than come to any harm by joining a new religious movement.4


  1. I.e., graduate school, where I did a lot of coursework in sociology of religion.

  2. For example: Moonies, Jews for Jesus, Christian Fundamentalists, and Scientologists.

  3. My friends and family were particular concerned about my association with the Moonies, because everybody "knew" that Rev. Moon could turn you into a twinkie-eating idiot who worshiped him unconditionally. After spending some continuous time with the Moonies - even travelling with them out of the country, on two occasions - I came away with a deep admiration for the spirituality and dedication of the Unification Church members I knew well, but I never could get over my intense dislike of Sun Myung Moon himself, and of course I thought their theology was boring to the point of being laughable. If that was brainwashing, it was pretty feeble stuff.

  4. Of course, people do get bitten by bats and do die of rabies. Often, they are spelunkers who go into caves where bats live. No activity is 100% free of risk.

Not all cults are necessarily "doomsday" in nature. Some are, in fact, perfectly benevolent, and have the ability to enrich the lives of their followers (and the bank accounts of their leaders).

I recall my first stepdad, Gary. He followed a dubious new-age cult called EckankarTM, led by the charismatic and intellectual "Sri"TM Harold Klemp, the MahantaTM, the living ECKTM Master (no, really). Mr Klemp is, in fact, listed in the International Who's Who of Intellectuals. EckankarTM is called the "Religion of the Light and Sound of God,"TM and is entirely cheerful and pleasant (and faintly fictional) in nature, believeing in things like "Soul TravelTM," and spouting the eminently Buddhist view that all religions are part of a whole, everyone needs to find their way to God, yadda yadda yadda. If you're happy to pay $130 membership a year for the privelege and an additional $50 for all the recommended books, more money to enlist with your local Master, more for Mr Klemp's casettes, more to visit the Temple of ECKTM in Chanhassen, Minnesota, etc etc etc.

I found the whole thing unutterably funny. EckankarTM has a long list of trademarks. The bottom of its website's homepage (URL: http://www.eckankar.org) lists six words, and the caveat "among others," as being its trademarks, evidently in an attempt to deter other cults from disowning it through their own publication. I have to wonder how lucrative it would be if the Pope, or the Archbishop of Canterbury tried to copyright The Bible, making words like Christ and Pentecost trademarks.

Gary introduced me to an elderly couple (the Howells) who followed EckankarTM. A perfectly normal and, in fact, extremely nice couple - did lots for the local community, good old-fashioned English eccentrics, etc. But they didn't get this out of EckankarTM - this was down to their personalities, as they acknowledged. The cult was an important, but not dominating, part of their lives, and they made no attempt to force their beliefs on me.

Gary was different. EckankarTM confirmed to him that he was a wonderful person, a benevolent child of God whose nature had been transformed by joining EckankarTM (I think that they should join with the Church of Scientology - have two-for-one offers and so on, could be a money spinner for them). Gary was, in fact, a violent, disturbed drunkard who beat my mother and once stabbed her. God (whichever you believe in) alone knows what he was like before his nature was "transformed."

Some cultists find refuge and peace in their cult (no matter what the price, financial or spiritual), like the Howells. Some distort the cult's "teachings" to justify or even deny their shortfalls, even to the exclusion of the feelings and safety of others (flashback - Gary yelling at my mother and kicking the dog shortly before putting on a tape and calmly chanting "HU"TM to himself over and over again) - but this is the case with all religions. Some cults are undeniably twisted, some are not - although I suspect all of them exist to generate money for their "benevolent" (= "wealthy") leaders. I think that it is a part of human nature to want to be a part of a community and to have a belief concerning spirituality - to the horror of some atheists, atheism is listed as a religion in British censa. Some cults are good, some are bad; the good ones should just be allowed to get on with their business (and I do mean, "business"), the bad ones undoubtedly need to be controlled or stopped. As an Anglican christian I have my own beliefs about God, but I do not see why otherwise normal individuals should not be allowed to follow their expensive, mildy barmy cults in relative peace and seclusion.

As to EckankarTM, I was actually quite interested (academically) to read into it a little. It is a mixture of "New Age" and ancient spiritual beliefs, and is, as I said, quite pleasant and benevolent in nature, at least in its presentation to the outside world. In fact, the philosopher and "cult-buster" Prof David Lane has written a lengthy expose on EckankarTM, which can be seen at http://www.geocities.com/eckcult/. He has been threatened with legal action by the cult on several occasions. Other websites list psychological threats, fraud and other nasties as being among EckankarTM's tactics.

Forgive the proliferation of TMs, just wanted to emphasise the point.

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