Running the gamut from kinda out-there to absolutely insane, cults keep springing up whenever there are impressionable people and a leader with funky ideas and the charisma to sell them. Here are a few things about cults that you might not have known.
32. Gods are from Venus
Aetherius is a New Age religion founded by British yoga master, Dr. George King, in the 1950s that is built around the belief that a series of “Cosmic Masters”, mostly from Venus and Saturn, control the fate of humanity.
31. You Betcha
One of the most famous cults, Scientology, was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who allegedly made a bet with fellow writer Robert A. Heinlein to see which one of them could start a religion. Hubbard won. Earth lost.
30. If Michael Bay was a Religion
Scientology’s defectors have revealed that Scientologists believe 75 million years ago Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy”, froze billions of aliens, brought them to Earth, and then dropped them into a volcano killing them. The spirits of these aliens, called Thetans, wander Earth and are what cause us spiritual harm. Again, we feel the need to remind you that Hubbard was a science fiction writer. And apparently, a very good one.
28. Through The Hubbard Telescope
Known for blackmail and bullying, The Church of Scientology even ordered the surveillance of Matt Parker and Trey Stone following their episode of South Park about Scientology. They found that both Parker and Stone are pretty boring guys. The Church also famously interfered with Louis Theroux as he made his documentary, My Scientology Movie.
27. Same, But Different
Founded in 1954 by Korean national Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church (whose followers are known as Moonies) follows many of the basic tenets of Christianity, but with a few eccentric twists…
26. Guilt Free!
The Blessing ceremony is the most famous ritual of the Unification Church. It is a large scale wedding ceremony that frees couples in attendance, and any children born afterwards, from the consequences of original sin. The original sin stems from the fall of man, when Adam ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
25. The To-Do List
Moon fancied himself as the Second Coming of Christ and that his purpose was to finish the work left undone by the crucifixion, which sort of misses the point of the crucifixion.
24. It’s All Black and White
The Manson Family was one of the most infamous cults in America. Founded in the 1960s by Charles Manson, he preached that there would be an impending race war where the blacks would slaughter the whites, and when it was over, he would emerge as the leader.
23. The Power of Music
Manson believed that the Beatles (yes, those Beatles) knew about this upcoming war and were trying to send him and the Family coded messages through the White Album, particularly the song Helter Skelter.
22. Thinning Ain’t Sinning
Founded by dietician Gwen Shamblin in the 1990s, the Remnant Fellowship teaches that eating less is in keeping with the self-sacrifice of Christ and overeating is a sin. If that were true, then why is one of Christ’s superpowers turning a little bit of food into a lot of food for all?
21. A Sticky Situation
The Remnant Fellowship came under fire after a child died due to “disciplinary actions” taken by his parents under Shamblin’s directives. These actions included forcible confinement and being whipped with large glue sticks.
20. Keeping up with the Joneses
The People’s Temple was formed by “Reverend” James Warren Jones as an attempt to create a socialist paradise. To avoid the IRS and negative press, Jones took his brainwashed followers into the Guyanese jungle, forming a settlement called Jonestown.
19. Jonestown is Right Next to Crazytown
California Congressman Leo Ryan went to Guyana with a television crew to document what was happening. After seeing how bad it was, he tried to return to the US along with some Jonestown residents who also wanted to leave. Jones’ guards opened fire on them.
18. They Drank the Kool-Aid
Following Ryan’s death, Jones told his followers that the commune would not be able to continue functioning and he convinced them to drink a cocktail of cyanide, sedatives, and tranquilizers. Over 900 people committed suicide in an event known as the Jonestown Massacre.
17. Cuz I’m Leaving on a Space Plane
Heaven’s Gate was led by Marshall Applewhite, who believed that the Earth was due to be cleansed and recycled and the only way to avoid being cleansed was to exit their bodies and hitch a ride on a spaceship that was hot on the trail of the Hale-Bopp comet. Thirty-nine members of Heaven’s Gate committed suicide in order to ditch their physical forms and catch that interstellar ride to spiritual bliss. Even on a flight to Heaven they have baggage limits.
16. Say Goodbye to Your Little Friend
Applewhite, founder of Heaven’s Gate, and seven other members of the cult, were voluntarily castrated in order to remain celibate and avoid any suggestion of sensuality. In other words, they didn’t need their nuts because they were nutty enough.
15. Heaven’s Gateway
There was one survivor of Heaven’s Gate and he still believes in the cult’s tenets and, in fact, maintains their website. Apparently he hasn’t heard of Wix.com.
14. Apocalypse Now
Branch Davidians religious sect were followers of David Koresh, who had a famous standoff against the FBI and the ATF in Waco, Texas that resulted in a 51-day siege that left over 80 people dead in a fire fight, including Koresh. His followers believed the apocalypse was upon them. Which was true. It was just very localized.
13. And All Women Are Hereby My Wives
Within his sect, all marriages were dissolved and only Koresh and his chosen “brides” were allowed to have sex, which seems like the primary factor influencing Koresh to start up his cult.
12. When Downward Dog Gets Serious
The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo (“Supreme Truth”) was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984 and started out as a yoga and meditation class before devolving into something quite a bit more sinister. Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, as well as sarin gas attacks in Nagano and Tokyo that resulted in the death of 20 people and thousands of injuries. When the police raided their facilities they found chemicals that could make enough sarin gas to kill 4 million people.
10. The Tao of Poo
Chen Tao was a cult formed by a former professor Hong-Ming Chen who believed that the universe was 4.5 trillion years old, that we each had three souls, and that humanity has been rescued more than once by God who travels in a flying saucer. The group disbanded after its founder inaccurately predicted that God would appear on television at 12:01 a.m. on March 31st in 1998 and ignored the first rule of religious predictions: Never ever be specific.
9. Were you Wearing an Armadillo Helmet at the Time?
The Church Universal and Triumphant believed that their leaders communicate with “Ascended Masters” who were spirits of dead saints and mythological figures. While this doesn’t seem too far off from most religions, they also believed that tin foil attracted aliens and that carrots were the “Food of the Masters.”
8. A Limited Time Offer
The Church Universal and Triumphant attracted the attention of the FBI when they began stockpiling weapons and building fallout shelters during the Cold War in the late 80s. To be fair, they weren’t the only ones doing that, however, the government frowned upon the Church predicting a Soviet missile strike that never came to convince church members to pony up $12,000 apiece to hide in a shelter.
7. Making Copies
Founded by French journalist Claude Vorilhon in 1974, the Raelians are another UFO cult who believed life on Earth was created by aliens called the Elohim. They gained national attention when they claimed they had successfully cloned a woman.
The Fellowship of Friends is a cult in California in which its members believe they are the only ones who will survive an upcoming Armageddon as long as they follow a strict set of rules including no swimming, no joking, and no smoking. Sounds like fun.
5. Cargo holds
The famous “cargo cults” sprang up amongst isolated tribes in the South Pacific during World War II. They began when natives saw foreign planes air-dropping cargo. The tribes created rituals and built symbolic landing strips to attract more cargo. Essentially, they saw the technologically advanced American military as their God. Just the way the military likes it.
4. They’re Late for a Very Important Date
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God told its followers that the apocalypse would come in the year 2000, but when that day came and went without incident they moved the goalposts to March 17th. When that didn’t work, they murdered all their members, burning 530 of them in a church and poisoning and stabbing hundreds of others. Evidently, they never got around to reading the commandment that said “thou shalt not kill.”
3. Loose Cars, Fast Women
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was the founder of an Oregonian cult community called Rajneeshpuram and preached fornication and debauchery. They courted controversy after they tried to influence local election by busing in homeless people to vote their interests and trying to poison the townspeople of Dalles, Oregon with salmonella to limit voters going to the polls.
2. Maybe They Just Didn’t Like Babies
The Order of the Solar Temple was a Canadian cult that believed they were continuing the traditions of the Knights Templar. They made headlines after the Quebec murder of a young couple and their baby, who they claimed was the anti-Christ. And here we thought Canadians were nice.
1. The Clothes Make the Cult
Formed in Saskatchewan in 1902, the Freedomites believed in three different things: Communal living, anarchy, and nudity. It is rather impressive that, given their disdain for clothing, they survived the first Saskatchewan winter. The Freedomites are known for their all-nude protests against materialism and later the all-nude bombing and burning of public buildings.