Never heard of the Pryoresses and their odd rituals?
November 1, 2008
Hey kids, here's an idea to keep you busy on a rainy afternoon. Why not start a cult, for fun and profit?
With the impending collapse of the world order as we know it, conditions are ripe for the birth of a mass movement, and you might just be the one to make it happen. All you need to get started are some felt-tipped markers, coloured cardboard, unbridled egotism and a keen interest in taking more wives than you really should.
Having long wished for a cult of my own, I have rolled over in my mind many times the pleasures of duping the vulnerable. First comes the fun of convincing decent people who are looking for meaning in their lives to come along to casual meetings where like-minded souls, who know there is so much more to existence than working and shopping, come together to share a meal and chat about what it means to be human.
Later comes the power rush of moving this band of followers onto a hardscrabble plot of land, where the men, bearded and shoeless, chant at my feet while the women, resplendent in calf-length floral, deep fry millet and quinoa cakes.
Finally, when I know I have hit the big time, I will tentatively welcome a documentary crew into my compound. I will believe the crew, probably from PBS or Panorama, want to spread my teachings, the teachings of the next messiah, to the world. But then I will grow hostile when I realise the crew is placing undue emphasis on the weekly ceremonies we conduct with male llamas and chicken blood, and raking over those silly old false imprisonment charges. Damn media bias.
OK, I'll quit the whimsy and delusions of grandeur and move onto actual content, after a fashion. For those interested in evidence-based cult building, I have come across a most fabulous book, still relevant even though published in 1951, and bestowed on me by a kindred spirit, a fellow traveller on the road to greater understanding of nutty movements. This paperback, by one Eric Hoffer, titled The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements and bearing the stamp of a book exchange in Branson, Missouri, coolly analyses the mind of fanatics who follow mass movements, whether religious, political or nationalistic.
First, Hoffer's book shows you don't need to be smart to lead a mass movement, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the journeys of the Little Pebble, or David Koresh. "Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable," he writes.
But there are some qualities you will need if you want to make it in the world of altars and floor-length kaftans. "The most decisive [qualities] for the effectiveness of a mass movement leader seem to be audacity, fanatical faith in a holy cause, an awareness of the importance of a close-knit collectivity and, above all, the ability to evoke fervent devotion in a group of able lieutenants."
Second, you need a devil to rail against. "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil," Hoffer writes. Nazism has Jews, communism has capitalists, Scientology has psychiatry. I would suggest more modern devils might include carbohydrates, investment bankers, migrants, fat kids and advertising.
Third, you need the audacity to give people hope, Obama-style. "Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope. It matters not whether it be hope of a heavenly kingdom, of heaven on earth, of plunder and untold riches, of fabulous achievement or world domination."
Of course, this is just a tiny sample of the steps it takes to build a cult. There is so much more to learn. Should you start your movement from scratch, or is it better to splinter from a mainstream religion? Should you give yourself an obviously religious name, such as the United Betrothians or Eternal Path Ministries, or try to disguise your cult-like qualities by calling yourself something like the Centre for the Empowerment of Human Development Potential or the Values Forum?
If you want to explore more, you might want to drop by one of my free, introductory workshops on cult creation. It's a really fun, relaxed evening with a bunch of great people. No pressure. If you do enjoy yourself, and most of our first-timers do, you're welcome to come along to one of our exciting weekend retreats, far away on a block of land with no mobile phone contact.
Disclaimer:This news page is about groups, organizations or movements, which may have been called "cults" and/or "cult-like" in some way, shape or form. But not all groups called either "cults" or "cult-like" are harmful. Instead, they may be benign and generally defined as simply people intensely devoted to a person, place or thing. Therefore, the discussion or mention of a group, organization or person on this page, is not necessarily meant pejoratively. Readers are encouraged to read widely on a topic before forming an opinion. Never accept information from a single source at face value. This website only holds a small amount of information and should not be relied on as a complete source. For example, if you find older information, this should be weighed up against newer information as circumstances can change.