Cults : LUSENET : Gwen's Trailer Trash Forum : One Thread

Has anyone had a friend or family member join a cult? How did it happen? Did the person who joined the cult think he/she was joining a religious group or self-help group?

How do you know if a group is or has the ability to become a cult? I've been trying to get information on the Athena Leadership. It looks like just a kooky religious group, but it seems to have the makings of a cult.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000


wow! this is a great question. I know nothing about cults (except the cult of "Me") :D

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

I have a cousin in Georgia who my grandma always said married a girl in a cult, but I think she really meant his wife was Baptist. Silly grandma.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

A girlfriend of mine is a single mom physical therapist. She has 6 kids and goes to a fundamental, but mainstream, Christian church. She and her kids are the everyday kind of family. I kind of wondered why the six kids and she told me a little of the story....She married a guy who was in a cult here in California. They had very strict rules about the roles of women, hence the six kids. Somehow she managed to leave him and the cult and get away. She says that even 20 years later, she still has to fight some of the brainwashing. She is one of the best people I've ever met and I'm so glad she and her kids are doing well. I barely remember, but for some reason the leader of this cult (whose name escapes me) and a few followers went to my home state of Missouri. When their leader died, the followers kept him in a freezer for awhile.

I was here in San Diego for the Heaven's Gate tragedy. I sure hope when my daughter grows up she thinks well for herself, has lots of life questions and has the self-esteem not to get sucked into that stuff. Or at least recognize it for what it is. I know it must be very insidious and not happen all at once. I'm sure Bubba would have some insights into this.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Oh sure! i love cults. I wrote a report on them for Religion class in the 8th grade. I picked Jim Jones, the Moonies, and Church of Satan.

At the high school i went to there was this group, called FOCUS, that would meet at classmates houses on friday mornings. It wasn't technically a cult, but it had a cultish feel to it. Trust me, i went to these meetings. They tried their hardest to get you to join up, using pretty disgusting peer-pressure and guilt tactics.

there are several cults i'd like to know more about, such as the Bretheren (a.k.a the Brothers and Sisters a.k.a The Garbage Eaters). I used to see those people riding their bikes around Berkeley.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Some links that might be of interest (or not--one person's cult is another person's New Age movement or non-Christian religion):
(Quote from Rick Ross site:
"Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton... defined a cult as having the following three characteristics:
1. A charismatic leader--who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power.
2. A process [is in use] call[ed] coercive persuasion or thought reform.
3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.")

Here's a (paraphrased) quiz from one of the above sites.

"1. Upon joining or inquiring about joining a group are you treated as an "outsider" and told that "outsiders" are not allowed to know "the secrets" or ask questions?
2. Have you been asked to pay large sums of money to receive "initiations" or some form of enlightmentment?
3. Have you been asked to pay money to a priest / guru / etc. for "services" in place of using that money for any real professional medical or psychological help you may be in need of? Have you spent your money to see a "priest" as opposed to seeing a medical doctor for an exam or visiting a psychological counselor for things like anxiety or depression? When you pay, is it so expensive that you must choose between real help from a professional and a promised "miracle cure" from a priest?
4. Do members and leadership of the group you are involved with become angry, threatening or violent with detractors or people who disagree with their beliefs? Or do they become threatening, intimidating or violent if someone wishes to practice their own beliefs about the religions which would differ from the group?
5. Is information controlled, or only available at a "$price$" to members?
6. Has a religious authority within the group made sexual demands or has said or done inappropriate sexual things to other members or to you? Are people who speak out about any sexual misconduct or abuse ousted or threatened for speaking out about the abuse?
7. Does every priest you visit claim that ONLY he or she has the answers and the "right" way to practice the religion? If you have received initiation elsewhere, does the priest tell you everything is wrong, but for another fee it can be done correctly?
8. Are you punished by a priest if you cannot afford a fee?
9. Do members of the group you are considering association with or are currently involved with become angry and defensive if anyone questions their handling of money?
10. Have you deserted your friends or any family members because of your involvement in the religion?
11. Does the preservation of the group and the religious leaders take precedence over the well being of individuals?
12. Do you or any member of the group live a fearful, superstitious existence in that you cannot make your own decisions without consulting priests?
13. Will the religious leaders allow you to know in depth, every secret and initiation you have paid for, or do you pay for things you are not allowed to know?
14. Is doctrine more important than people?
15. Do you ever suffer from nightmares or any obsessive/compulsive episodes, depression, or dissasociative episodes since you have been involved?
16. Are you really happy or just pretending you are so you don't feel like shit because of all of the money, time, effort and sweat you have wasted on this crap?"

There ya go. :)

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Oh, lest I forget: the Athena Leadership Homepage:

There is a similarly named organization here that seems more reputable:

How's that?

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

When a friend of mine was a little girl, her mom got into a cult, and she and my friend ended up living on the compound for several years. Well, until the police intervined because the cult leader was raping all the little girls repeatedly... including my friend. She actually had to testify in court against this guy. And her mom was mad at her for messing up the group. Yeah, that'll fuck a person up....

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Milla, the Athena Leadership group is what I'm investigating. From the looks of the website, it looks like a bizarre new-age religion but has the beginnings of a cult. I was wondering if anyone knew more about them.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

The links I found (in first response) attempt to answer your question "How do you know if a group is or has the ability to become a cult?".

The first link in my second response is an attempt to help you get information on the Athena Leadership--it looked likeit might be their homepage. I'm sorry if my responses didn't turn out to be very useful to you.

Actually, as far as personal experiences go, I have one. I was interested in the workings of a New-Agey 'cult' (though that is debatable, I suppose) known as the New Life Foundation (Boulder City, Nevada) and I attended many of their meetings out of curiosity while Vernon Howard (charismatic author) was alive and addressing large groups regularly. Howard himself seemed reasonable, if crusty. His 'followers' varied.

Howard fit the bill as far as being 'charismatic'. He also had a lot to say about what your mindset ideally should be and he was adamant that you not give away any 'personal power' to others. (His lectures, books and pamphlets discussed ideas that came close to being stereotypical cult-ish thought reform & behavior modification.) He didn't ask for tithes or donations, but Foundation members frequently fed him, renovated his home, drove him about, etc. And those who were closer to him were perceived as being of a higher 'rank' of some sort. He stressed that people who followed his ideas would probably be better off not trying to explain them to others, as they were too difficult for the average person to understand and there was no reason to open yourself up to persecution.

Example of Foundation mindfuck: Howard said "The higher (more evolved) shall not approach the lower." So you had a lot of people walking around not interacting with anyone else, because they felt they were more evolved, until you'd become a familiar face. And even then, the old-timers were standoffish. It was a way to diminish the group's contact with non- Foundation members.

Howard was dismissive of psychiatrists, et al, and felt that they often were too coddling of people. His pamphlets were all about how everyone is evil and out for themselves and that you have to say NO to any encroachment of your personal space, power, time, desires, etc., because people were out to guilt trip and emotionally manipulate and lie to you at all times. Howard frequently shouted and used shock tactics and defensive anger to get people's attention. Oh--being defensive meant, automatically, that you were wrong, not that you might have actually been unfairly attacke din any way.

There were meetings that were only for higher-level Foundation members. Most gave money and property to the Foundation to help defray costs, etc. And the messages of Howard's and the Foundation itself were definitely more important than any one member.

I found it fascinating because most of the group members were highly intelligent people who were, to all appearances, fairly normal folks. Yet there was clearly some mindfucking going on, and many people were sinking huges amounts of money and property into the Foundation (of their own free will, mind). An ex-Foundation member gave me an earful and was concerned that I was going, even idly, lest I get sucked in.

Obviously that didn't happen.

I think Howard was a smart guy. I also think that much of what he had to say was valid. However, the group itself was a dysfunctional cult-esque thing, if not an actual cult, and that was too bad.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Milla, I meant to end my previous post with a Thank You for your information. Sorry about that.

I know someone who is involved with the Athena Leadership, and if you look at the site they talk about a convention in India that just occured last week. The person I know went to that "convention" and considers himself a "Light Worker", meaning that he feels he and the other "light workers" are put on earth to bring all religions together and everyone will be one. Right now, it just seems like some new-age hokey to me, and I don't know if he has given large sums of money to the organization or exactly how much personal time he has been giving to this group. He has gone on many trips to different countries around the world with this group, which I had originally thought was a prayer group from the Lutheran church he belongs to. His wife became concerned that he belongs to a cult after watching a show on Discovery Channel about cults and she learned that her husband is the perfect target for cult-like groups.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

If you're a friend of this guy's wife, you're certainly doing a lot to help her by asking for more information and feedback. Very cool of you.

I don't know that I'd do if I were in your shoes--that's all a sticky thing. If he fits the profile of a person who might be easily indoctrinated into a destructive cult of some sort, then perhaps another Lutheran minister might be someone for the concerned wife to go talk to. I'm loathe to dismiss his activities without knowing more about them, but, like you, I did detect a whiff of something not- quite-right when I skimmed their website. Not enough to set off any serious warning bells, but enough that I can see, easily, why she-- and you--might have concerns.

As for me and New Agey stuff, I may be an old crusty cynic at heart, but I also collect (and occasionally read) tarot cards and I am second degree Reiki, all of which is considered a semi-flaky thing to be by more than one person. So maybe some folks would say I'm not a reputable enough person to ask, as far as distinctions between legitimate groups and destructive cults... :)

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

nick im sorry to here about yrou freind. i hope every thing works out :)!!!!!

we used to have a wtich craft cult in our town but the local preest did some kind of exersise and they all left! it was pretty scary

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Thanks for the vote of confidence Vicki, but I can add absolutely nothing to what Milla has already posted except the intelligence report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center at:

-- Anonymous, November 11, 2000

My uncle, aunt, cousins are Jehovah's Witnesses, as was my grandma. When I was little the "Watchtower" magazine would come to our house and Mom would immediately toss it in the trash; then my brothers and I would dig it out and read it. (My dad was never a JW; his family all converted after he was grown.) One time I asked my grandma a question about Heaven. Boy, my mom was mad.

The scariest culty thing that I ever experienced was during an all- night prayer session for teens at my family's church (First Christian). The pastor's son started talking in "tongues" at about 3 AM. It was the beginning of my personal spiritual journey toward Martin Gardner/James Randiist skepticism.

-- Anonymous, November 11, 2000

I thought the Heavens Gate scene was a blessing. Fewer idiots walking around to pollute the gene pool. Art Bell has a list for people and groups like this. It's called the Darwin Awards List for those idiots who so kindly take themselves out of the gene pool. Government has the very touchy job of defending the rights of children from idiots like David Koresh but sometimes things go wrong and the innocent get hurt by those trying to protect. And then there is the other extreme like the McMartin Preschool debacle. It's so simple when we watch it on TV but hard in the glaring light of day. Do political cults count? James

-- Anonymous, November 11, 2000

I thought the Heavens Gate scene was a blessing.

I see what you're getting at, but I wonder if you'd think it was such a blessing if you'd watched one of your loved ones -- a friend, a sibling, a child -- succumb to this cult and then die. I doubt it. There are real people behind these stories, easy as it is to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Nicole, I hope your friend is okay.

-- Anonymous, November 13, 2000

Milla, what is a second degree Reiki?

-- Anonymous, November 13, 2000

My heart is hard. Against people who join these cults. I had some friends in the 70's Jesus movements that went a little deep and no matter what I and friends tried to do, it wasn't enough. But for the children, I would do anything to rescue them from these idiots. But when the relatives are able to snatch them the law always returns the children to their idiot parents. My heart is hard. Freedom of religion like most things is fine but people are easily swayed and those in the hierarchy can't be touched because of our constitution. KuKluxKlan, Moonies, NFL and WWF are all the same. People atre gullible and my heart is hard. James

-- Anonymous, November 13, 2000

Hey James, is your heart heard? Just kidding.

I talked to my friend's wife, and she did talk to their pastor once, and the pastor talked to my friend at least once about it. I'm glad the pastor knows about this because I'm sure he has some resources that could help in case this group is in fact a cult.

Thanks for all your help guys!

-- Anonymous, November 13, 2000

Milla, what is a second degree Reiki?

A healing technique. It's not quite massage and not quite acupressure, though it can involve either/both if you like. Hmm. It has to be experienced rather than described, I'm afraid. (If you've ever had acupuncture, it does similar work without involving needles.) A web search on "Reiki" will give you the gist.
(Second degree is just the second level. No biggie...'degree' isn't used like, say, the Masons use it.)

-- Anonymous, November 16, 2000

Oh, so it's nothing like, say, a seventh-degree blackbelt in Milla-Fu? (aaiieeee! Your tiger-style Reiki is good, but my dragon-style Reiki is stronger!)

I had a second-degree Reiki once, but that's what you get when you try to snatch fallen marshmallows from the campfire. Ouch! (ba-da-BOOM)

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

Wasn't that a Reike move that Spock did where he pinched people's shoulders and made them fall down?

Paul, Milla-Fu is a purely literary martial art.

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

Ah, right you are, Lisa. Milla-fu has been known to render readers helpless and twitching. :-)

Only a joke, sensei Milla!

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

Spock's move wouldn't be a healing thing, now would it? :) Hmm. Probably would be more of an acupressure thing. It's all a matter of knowing which nerve to pinch. There are quite a few that, if compressed, will do similar things.

All humor aside, reiki doesn't work like that.

-- Anonymous, November 17, 2000

Reiki Martin? He Reikes! James

-- Anonymous, November 18, 2000

paul why are you saying fu to millie? thats nto nice!!!

-- Anonymous, November 19, 2000

Hey, floosie, thanks for sharing the story about the priest doing exersizes to get rid of the withcraft cult. Nothing scares us Wiccans away like a few jumping jacks or leg lifts, that's fer sure.

-- Anonymous, January 31, 2001

what your point magro?

-- Anonymous, February 13, 2001

A good friend of mine joined a cult as a young adult (I didn't meet her until she had already left). It was very difficult to disengage herself from the whole system.

I have to say though, james, you're mostly an idiot on this one. The people I know who have joined cults or who have been tempted to join are *not* at all stupid people. They're people (usually fairly young) who are smart enough to see the hollowness in a lot of what's up for offer in society. For example, these are people who never understood how products could be linked to human emotions the way they often are in our advertisment heavy culture. While being upset at the larger culture's offerings of meaning and value, they were approached or became interested in religious traditions that they didn't encounter much in their childhoods. Which often lead to cults of one sort or another (which play around with those traditions and yet are very open to outsiders).

And it's kind of a package deal. My friend wasn't an idiot. She was very disturbed by the way women were treated within the religion, but at the same time was working on 'ego' issues. So how much of her anger was valid and how much had to do with how materially inclined she was?

It's interesting.

Cults aren't really for crazy people. If they were, they wouldn't be as popular as they are.

-- Anonymous, February 14, 2001

Thanks for that info, sask. My friend is pretty intelligent, but a lot has happened in his life over the last 18 months and I think he is trying to find his place in the world. I haven't heard anything from his wife lately concerning the groups he associates with, so I'm hoping that the counceling they are going to is working out.

-- Anonymous, February 14, 2001

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