A cult is a religious or social group, usually small in size but extreme in its beliefs, which are alien to the surrounding community. The cult requires lot of time, money, and devotion from its members. The word ‘cult’ was first used in the seventeenth century to denote homage paid to a divinity. However, this sense of the word is no longer valid.
Cults attracted the attention of sociologists and theologists on account of their unusual beliefs. It was because of this account, that in 1970 an anti-cult movement emerged as a reactionary group. Beliefs and practices of cults have been usually subjected to intense criticism by religious circles. Benjamin Zablacki; a professor of sociology at Rutgers University defines a cult as, ‘an ideological organization, held together by charismatic relationships and demand of total commitment.’ He is of the opinion that cults are highly susceptible to becoming abusive to their members.
1. Manson Family
Born on November 12th of 1934, Charles Miles Manson was a song writer and singer. During his unemployment, he committed crimes and became notorious for creating a pop culture which he called ‘Helter Skelter, from a song performed by the Beatles. His cult, founded in 1960, was known as the Manson family. He committed joint responsibility murders in which each member of the group is considered equally responsible for any criminal act, particularly a murder, in order to confuse the law enforcing authorities. He was found guilty of conspiring for Tate/ LaBianca murders by the cult members under his instructions. He was sentenced to death, but in 1970, after the Supreme Court decision to eliminate death sentence temporarily, his punishment was commuted to life imprisonment and did not change after the revival of the death sentence in California.
The Raelian cult was founded by Rael in 1970. According to Rael, universal truths were revealed to him by a 25,000 year old extraterrestrial. The being claimed that human beings were created by their ancestor Elohim, who came from sky. They did so by sending forty messengers including Moses, Christ, Buddha and others to utilize genetic engineering and manipulate DNA for cloning to create an ideal man. According to this UFO (Unseen Foreign Object) religion, Elohim will revisit the planet Earth, when sufficient human beings are converted to this cult and complete peace prevails here. According to Rael, the principles of the cult were revealed to him during a personal meeting with ‘Yahweh’ the extraterrestrial who came in a UFO.
3. Cargo Cults
During the World War II, people saw manufactured goods including food items, being dropped by the planes through parachutes. Cultists thought the manufactured goods were sent by their ancestral spirits for the consumption of the Melanesian people. The cultists therefore intended to counter the white influence and to get cargo for themselves. They prepared prototypes of radios, headphones, airports, runways, parachutes and even painted their bodies with the lettering USA to look like the white people. They installed artificial lights on runways and signaled like white people to seek the manufactured goods or ‘cargo’. The cult could not survive on account of its inherent weakness. One faction called John Frum Cult can still be seen prevailing on the Island of Tanna, Vanuatu.
4. Heaven’s gate
Heaven’s gate cult was founded by Apple White during the end of twentieth century. The cultists were a closely knit group and added ‘ody’ as suffix to their names. The cult was comprised of only a few members, who sold are their property and worldly possessions to enable themselves to enter the gateway to Heaven. Six members of the cult voluntarily castrated themselves, in order to live free of worldly desires. Thirty eight members of the cult committed suicide in shifts in a rented mansion of California on March 26, 1997. It was one of the most known cult suicidal cases. They drank orange juice first to purify and then took Vodka mixed with Phenobarbital and covered the heads and face with poly bags to ensure death by suffocation. For some unknown reason, each of the Heaven’s Gate cult members had five dollars with him , wore uniform black shirts, brand new Nike shoes and armbands with the inscription ‘ Heave’s Gateway Team’.
5. Ho No Hana
Often known as the Foot Reading Cult, Ho Non Hana Sanpogyo is a Japanese cult. Its Founder Hogen Fukunaga claimed he could diagnose and treat illnesses by the examination of feet. He considered himself Jesus and Buddha incarnate and founded the group in 1987.It was a large group comprising of about 30,000 members as claimed by them. Fukunaga charged $900 fee for foot examination. He was accused of having grabbed millions of dollars from housewives fraudulently and had to repay large sums of money to compensate.
6. Creativity Movement
Creativity Movement; a non Christian cult was founded by Ben Klassen in early 1973. After Klassen committed suicide in 1993, it was led by Mathew F. Hale. The cult believes in white supremacy and denies holocaust saying that the Nazis had neither any policy to exterminate Jews nor did they use gas chambers for that purpose. The cult claims that the number of Jews killed was far less than the usually stated number of 5 to 6 million. The group is staunch believer in the white supremacy and committed to achieving the mission of the exclusive survival, expansion and advancement of the white race. On July 22, 2002, two cultists were found guilty of plotting to blow up Jewish and African American land marks to initiate what they called a ‘racial holy war’.
7. Aum Shinrikyo
Shoko Asahara founded ‘Aum Shinrikyo’; a Japanese religious cult following the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism. It claimed of having 9000 members in Japan and 40,000 worldwide. The cult was stated to retain the membership forcefully and any deviations were not tolerated. Any member going astray was murdered. On March20, 1995, in the morning, the cultists attacked five trains with the release of Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 frequent travelers harming 54 and leaving another 980 affected less or more by the poisonous gas. According to UN resolution 687, Sarin falls under weapons of mass destruction and its production or use was banned. Very small quantity of Sarin is lethal. Police found at the cult’s headquarters in Kamikuishiki at the foot of Fuji Mountains, stocks of biological warfare agents including, sarin, anthrax and Ebola.
L.Ron Hubbard founded this movement, known for being the most controversial new religious movement of the 20th century. It was incorporated as the Church of Scientology, Camden, New Jersey. The cultists believe the people are immortals and have forgotten their past which can be revived through rigorous self auditing. They use intense therapy sessions and rely upon lie detector tests with an E-meter. The cult has been often described as financial frauds; charging exorbitant fees from the cult members against the spiritual services extended to them. The Church of Scientology is tax exempt in USA and the cultists quote it to prove that it is a recognized religion. France, Germany and England do not allow this status to the cult.
9. People’s Temple
Jim Jones founded a cult by the name ‘Peoples Temple’ in 1970 with its headquarters in San Francisco and about a dozen branches in California. Jim Jones was impressed by Communism. The cult is known for the suicidal event on November 18, 1978 in which 918 people died unnatural deaths at the hands of this cult at the notorious Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. The mass suicide caused the greatest loss of human life out of unnatural causes of death after the nine eleven event. The event appeared on the front cover of several Magazines, including Time Magazine. According to Gallup Poll, the event became one of the most famous events in the American History.
10. Branch Davidians
Victor Houteff was a Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh Day Adventist teacher. In 1929 he presented a new message for his church through his book The Shepherd’s Rod: The 144,000- A Call for Reformation. The Adventist leadership rejected the book finding its teachings contrary to basic Adventist’s principles. Consequently, Victor and his followers were disfellowshipped. The term Davidians denotes the magical era as harbinger of Christ’s reappearance. The Branch Dravidian is most known for the siege of their headquarters in 1993, at Waco by ATF and FBI which caused the death of their leader David Koresh and other 82 Branch Davidians.
Cults are mostly the sporadic mushroom growths, sprouting out of some psychological disorder, religious disagreement or some vested purposes. They are usually short lived movements lead by a charismatic personality who knits them closely in order to achieve financial gain, false prestige or cheap popularity. Mostly, youngsters fall victim to such groups.