The mention of the word “cult” conjures images of men and women dressed in masks and robes, gathered around a bonfire, chanting out some strange and creepy lines. While those images are not especially inaccurate, there are more to cults than just strange robes and chants although strangeness does seem to play a huge factor. Let’s go through 15 of the creepiest cults to have ever been reported.
Possibly the strangest thing about Scientology is that it was created by L. Ron Hubbard, an American science fiction writer. It is difficult to completely understand what Scientology is all about without penetrating deep into the organization, which is also not an easy feat as it could cost a few years and plenty of thousand dollars.
The Church of Scientology is classified as a corporation-owned religion although both outsiders and escaped members claim that it is a criminal enterprise that might or might not be disguised as a cult. One of the beliefs that it greatly espouses is the need to abolish psychiatry as it is believed to be evil and abusive. Instead, the Church of Scientology pushes “auditing”, a process by which negative emotions are resolved by means of recall. “Auditing” aides are e-meters and supplements that were found to be non-government approved. The Scientology Church has been involved in numerous controversies including reports of fraud, espionage, and brainwashing. Scientology leader L. Ron Hubbard took his own life while hiding from the authorities in relation to ongoing investigations.
14. Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan is one of the most notorious cults and has been immortalized in numerous films, either as objects of terror or hilarity. The KKK has gained notoriety for their trademark white robes, pointed hoods and extreme observance of White Supremacy. It has become a symbol of terror especially to blacks and other minorities.
White Supremacy is only one facet upheld by the Klan. It rallies furiously against parties to which they oppose. This is especially true in terms of politics and religion. The Ku Klux Klan is one of the most feared cults of all time because its members show no hesitation in carrying out murderous missions in full view of the public. Members wear robes and hoods to protect their anonymity, which significantly adds to the terror. The 1st Klan was formed in 1865 and existed for less than a decade. The second Klan had a longer existence, from 1915-1944. The third Klan, the fact of which is enough to cause goosebumps, was formed in 1946 and still exists to this very day.
13. The Unification Church
The Unification Church was built around the delusion that its leader, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was chosen to continue Christ’s mission as the Messiah. Allegedly, he had a vision when he was 16 years old that he was chosen by divine powers to carry out the next parts of Jesus Christ’s mission, which was to pick a spouse, get married, and have a family. He was able to brainwash his followers, called “Moonies” that salvation can be theirs only through strict obedience to his statutes.
The South Korean cult was notorious for mass weddings, which the reverend himself officiated. He also picked out his followers’ spouses as part of their devotion vow. In the 1970s, people started getting suspicions that the Unification Church was more of a cult and not a religion. Members were “deprogrammed” by their families, and complaints of brainwashing and tax evasion were filed against the organization. The church is still active although it has changed its name to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Rajneeshpuram traces its roots to Pune, India in the 1970s. Its leader, an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, indulged in worldly pleasures. He owned 93 Rolls Royces and encouraged his congregation to embrace a life of sex. Disciples were referred to as “neo-sannyasins, or simply “sannyasins.” They used to be known as Rajneeshees or “Orange People,” because of the orange and later red, maroon and pink clothes they wore from 1970 until 1985. His teachings didn’t sit well with the conservative Indian community, and he was forced to leave his native country.
In 1981, he moved to the United States to continue his teachings. He purchased a land in Oregon, and he succeeded not only in building a congregation, but in building a cult community, which they named Rajneeshpuram. He met a lady named Ma Anand Sheela, who became his right hand in carrying out rituals and missions. Rajneeshpuram grew to a population of 2,500. Rajneesh and Sheela made attempts for the cult community to be recognized as a legitimate, voting community. They were dead set at their mission that they, along with other officers, staged the first recorded bioterrorist attack in American history by poisoning the food in restaurants around the town of Dalles. The attack left 750 victims seriously sick.
11. The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
While most cults were founded on delusion and deceit, The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda was founded on gross misinterpretation of the Ten Commandments. In the belief that adherence to the Ten Commandments of God would lead to salvation, followers of that Church sought dire measures to obey. They stopped talking to one another so as not to bear false witness; they rid themselves of sexual desires; and they observed fasting and abstinence.
The followers observed strict adherence to the Ten Commandments in preparation for the Apocalypse, which was predicted to happen on January 1, 2000. When the world didn’t end on that day, the followers became skeptical of their leaders. The leaders then revealed another day for the Apocalypse, March of that same year. Before the predicted doomsday came, 778 followers gathered inside the church and the structure exploded, which to this day is being debated as murder or mass suicide.
10. Aum Shinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo, Japanese for “Supreme Truth”, was created by Shoko Asahara in 1984 in Japan. Asahara introduced his congregation as a yoga and meditation church so when it petitioned for religious recognition, he was granted religion status. There were numerous questionable activities within the organization. In its first decade of operations, it had received complaints of fraud, forced donations, and murders.
As it gained notoriety, Aum Shinrikyo attracted the attention of the authorities. In 1995, the government decided to raid the cult’s property, but not without suffering a sarin gas explosion in the subway system, which was the doing of Shoko Asahara. Seized from the property were shocking amounts of poisonous gas, which had the capacity to kill 4 million people, a massive inventory of weapons and explosives, drugs, chemical weapons such as anthrax, a Russian helicopter, and live hostages.
9. Children of God
In the 1960s, Christian minister David Berg discovered a huge hippie community in Huntington Beach, California. Berg found a way to easily brainwash the hippies: through talks of standing up against the establishment. His anti-norm ways attracted the hippies and even motivated them to abandon their jobs and homes to live with Berg. Berg received huge amounts of donations from the hippies, enough to sustain the community.
What made the Children of God distinctively a cult was its focus on sex, adding even that sex with a child was not only okay but was actually a divine right. Children as young as toddlers were being made to participate in sexual rituals. Ladies were being used to lure recruits in bars, which they called “Flirty Fishing”. Some even went as far as being ushered into prostitution. The cult gained worldwide success in 1974 when it had recorded a membership of 4,000 from 70 countries. The Children of God disbanded when an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases broke out within the community.
8. Fall Rivers Cult
The Fall Rivers Cult was a small Satanic cult that ran in the late 1970s in Massachusetts. Its founding leader, Carl Drew, claimed to be the son of Satan. He used that claim to invite and intimidate new members in participating in rituals of satanism. As Carl Drew was a pimp and highly involved in the Fall Rivers sex trade, it was easy for him to lure vulnerable prostitutes to join his cult. His occult rituals mostly involved sex and drugs, but eventually, he felt that they weren’t doing enough.
The Fall Rivers Cult felt that their rituals lacked depth, and decided that they had to start making human sacrifices. The first victim was Donna Levesque, a 17-year old local of Fall Rivers. Her body was found mutilated, her skull was crushed so heavily, and she had signs that she was sexually assaulted. The “sacrifice ritual” of Donna Levesque was witnessed by another 2 prostitutes, Karen Marsden and Robin Murphy. Karen, who probably was beat by fear and her conscience, tried to escape the coven, but she ended up being the second sacrifice. Marsden was beheaded, mutilated, and raped. In the second Fall Rivers cult murder, Murphy had a much bigger participation than just a witness. The Fall Rivers cult was discovered by the authorities and Carl Drew and Robin Murphy were tried in court. An undercover cop, however, reported that he believed then 17-year old Robin Murphy was the real cult leader and murder mastermind.
7. Order of the Solar Temple
Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret created the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984 and claimed to have patterned its fundamentals on the secret society Knights Templar. The founders believed that there had to be a restructure of authority and power in the world before the predicted end of times in the 1990s. The prophecy, however, was not fulfilled, and that brought chaos to the organization.
The Order of the Solar Temple had more than 100 casualties, a result of mass suicides and murders. Among the victims was an infant named Emmanuel Dutoit. Di Mambro pointed Emmanuel Dutoit, son of a member, to be the Antichrist who was sent to prevent Di Mambro from fulfilling his spiritual mission. Shortly after, a series of mass suicides and murders ensued in the villages of Chelry and Salvan. Those who committed suicide believed that they were moving on to a better dimension that was free from the oppression of the physical world. Those who were murdered wore plastic bags around their head. There were speculations that church members voluntarily submitted themselves to the execution although evidence showed that they were drugged prior to the shooting.
6. Branch Davidians
Branch Davidians was a doomsday cult led by David Kosher. Kosher was kicked out of the Seventh Day Adventists, which drove him to join another organization in Waco, Texas, the Branch Davidians. He forged an affair with then 60-year old leader Lois Roden, who then named Kosher as her successor. This decision was the beginning of chaos for the Branch Davidians.
Kosher released his doctrine, “New Light”, where he proclaimed himself to be the “spiritual husband” and that all females in the church, regardless of age, were his spiritual wives. The congregation turned its back on stories of rape and other forms of sexual abuse in the name of spiritual blindness. The Branch Davidians prepared themselves for the impending doomsday by gathering different kinds of weapons. The massive collection of firearms alarmed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In February 1993, the ATF conducted a raid of the church’s property on Mt. Carmel. The church did not yield; instead, it engaged the enforcers in a 51-day shootout and standoff until the ATF decided to bomb the property with tear gas. The encounter ended in a big fire that killed more than 80 Branch Davidians, which included more than 20 children and leader David Kosher himself.
5. Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate was founded by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in the 1970s under the delusion that they were fulfilling a prophecy in chapter 11 of the Book of Revelations in the Holy Bible. Applewhite and Nettles believed that they were chosen witnesses who were tasked to lead others to salvation when the end of times came. They named their group “Human Individual Metamorphosis” then changed it to “Total Overcomers Anonymous” before finally naming it “Heaven’s Gate”in the 1990s.
Heaven’s Gate believed that at the end of times, a spaceship will shuttle the believers from the Earth to the gates of heaven. In preparation for the apocalypse, members were taught to detach themselves from earthly concepts such as family, wealth, and sex. All Heaven’s Gate followers had a uniform androgynous look consisting of loose clothing, Nike shoes, and close-cropped haircuts. In the 1990s, Heaven’s Gate took advantage of the popularity of the Internet to spread their message and recruit more members. In March 1997, cult members believed that salvation was coming in the form of a UFO following the Hale-Bopp comet, which was then nearing the earth. To prepare themselves for the apocalypse, all but 2 of the 39 members of Heaven’s Gate laid in bed, wrapped their upper bodies in a purple cloth, and committed suicide. The other 2 members wrapped their head and upper torso in a plastic bag.
4. Ripper Crew
The Ripper Crew was a Satanic cult that had only four reported members although it was believed to belong to a larger network of Satanic organizations. The quartet, led by Robin Gecht, reigned terror in Chicago, Illinois in the early 1980s. Before forming the Ripper Crew, which also got to be known as Chicago Rippers, Gecht worked for notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, which may have had an influence on the cult leader.
Much of the Ripper Crew’s practices were centered on sexual abuse and murder of women. Between May 1982 and October 1983, the four men abducted, raped, and murdered 18 women as part of their Satanic rituals. They had, however, two victims who were able to escape and survive the attacks even after having one of their breasts amputated. The first of the two, prostitute Angel York, failed to lead the police to the Ripper Crew, but the second escapee, Beverley Washington, also a prostitute, was able to give accurate descriptions of the four and their van. In trial, two of the Ripper crew confessed to the Satanic rituals and crimes, which involved mutilating the victims’ breasts and eating parts of the breasts as part of the ceremony.
3. Los Hermanos Hernandez
The Los Hermanos Hernandez, loosely translated as The Hernandez Brothers, was founded out of poverty, which also preyed on the poverty of its members in the impoverished parts of northern Mexico. The cult was founded by brothers Santos and Cayetano Hernandez in 1962. They scammed parishioners into offering sexual favors and what little money they had to gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven. The Hernandez brothers recruited a third person, Magdalena Solis, who worked as a prostitute until she was married to both brothers in a cult sacrament and introduced Solis as an Inca Goddess, the High Priestess of Blood.
Eventually, Magdalena Solis took over the Los Hermanos Hernandez. During the leadership of the Hernandez brothers, most of the rituals centered on orgies. When Solis took over, the rituals got more intense and demanded that human sacrifices had to be made. Her ceremonies centered on sadomasochism and consumption of blood. She ordered the ritualistic sacrifice of dissenting members where they were beaten, cut, and left to bleed to death. The blood was then mixed with chicken blood, marijuana, and peyote in a chalice. As the High Priestess of Blood, Solis was the first to drink from the chalice, followed by the Hernandez brothers, and then by the other higher members of the congregation. The cult was discovered when a 14-year old boy named Sebastian Guerrero was driven to the cave where the group was holding one of its rituals. Frightened and alarmed by the scene, he decided to report what he witnessed to the police. He went back to the cave the next day with Investigator Luis Martinez. Unfortunately, both Guerrero and Martinez were killed, with the teenage boy’s body chopped up and the enforcer’s heart missing. When Martinez failed to report back to work, a task force was sent to the cave to look for him. An encounter ensued between the authorities and the Los Hermanos Hernandez cult, with the Hernandez brothers being killed and Solis being arrested.
2. Manson Family
The Manson Family, led by Charles Manson, gained worldwide notoriety for its high-profile killing sprees, victims of which involved actress Sharon Tate. Charles Manson was in his late 20’s when he founded the cult. He believed himself to be a prophet whose mission was to lead people during the apocalyptic race war, which he called Helter Skelter, from the popular Beatles song. He built his hippie cult community, comprised mostly of females, in Spahn Ranch, an old movie ranch owned by George Spahn. In exchange for the lodging, Manson ordered the female members to give sexual favors to the owner.
The thrust of the Manson Family as a cult was never clearly established. Charles Manson implied himself to be Jesus although his teachings and orders dabbled mostly in Satanic acts. On the other hand, Helter Skelter taught of racial supremacy. Manson possessed an undeniable charisma that made it easy for him to grow the family. Without getting blood on his hands, he used his charisma to orchestrate the murders of all their victims. In the high profile murder of Sharon Tate and four of her friends, Manson ordered the family to kill everyone in the Polanski home in the most gruesome way possible. The victims were stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, and tortured. Before the murder team left the estate, they used Tate’s blood to write “PIG” on the front door. A couple of days before the murders, Charles Manson stated, “Now is the Time for Helter Skelter.”
1. People’s Temple
The People’s Temple was founded by Jim Jones in Indianapolis in 1954. Jones’ primary motive for building the People’s Temple was to spread Marx’s theory of communism. At that time, it was difficult to gather an audience to participate in socio-political discussions, which was why he hid under the reliable cloak of religion. Jones, who was already then a preacher, took advantage of his charisma to recruit members. Although he was white, he was popular in the African-American community, which comprised 70%-80% of the congregation. He recruited highly skilled members, those he knew would be of great help to him in setting up a community.
People’s Temple amassed its wealth by cruising up and down California for recruitment and fundraising. The congregation deployed ten to fifteen buses a trip and conducted worship and healing services. In a week, the organization would amass $15,000 to $25,000. People’s Temple expanded its ventures by setting up Truth Enterprise, which regularly sent out mail to the church’s supporters. Donations started pouring in that this venture alone netted the church $300 to $400 a day. The Enterprise also started to sell People’s Temple merchandise such as lockets, oils, rings, and even Jones’ robe. When eight of its members defected from the organization, People’s Temple started to receive media scrutiny. Jones decided to move the community to Guyana with the promise that its members would live free from the oppression of the outside world. On November 17, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan of San Francisco flew to Guyana to investigate reports of child abuse within the organization. On his visit, several members intimated their desire to defect and go back to San Francisco with him. On their way to the airstrip, however, they were gunned down by Temple members. On the evening of that day, 918 members of People’s Temple, 276 of which were children, committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid grape juice.