Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary doesn’t define cults well. (See Carol’s excellent Comment 10 in our Cult Recognition Quiz. Just in case you ever wanted to read a dictionary definition for “cult.”)
Of course, the dictionary business is different from doing deprogramming or helping people exit from cults.
Similarly, it isn’t accurate (IMHO) to define a cult as “any group with an us-them mentality.” That could be a way to define “obnoxious,” not necessarily “cult.”
Which goes to show how otherwise savvy, smart people can miss the point(s) about what a cult really is. Why is this knowledge so important?
Breaking free from cult mind control is a requirement to become Enlightened. (Ironic, I know, when some cults aim for Enlightenment.)
Graduating from cults is a requirement for many of us. Recognizing cults is helpful as we evolve, moving one from teacher or path to another.
In that pursuit of energetic freedom and clarity, here are answers to our previous post, the Cult Recognition Quiz. To enjoy today’s post the most, take that Quiz cold. Then come back here.
Tricky, this cult business
Do I demand that you agree with every one of my answers? Or any one of my answers? No, that’s what COMMENT sections are for.
Keep in mind, if I did demand that you agree with Rose Rosetree on everything, that would not mean I was leading a cult. It could merely signify a revolting lack of respect for your self-authority.
But that isn’t the same thing as leading a cult.
New Age teachers like me are especially at risk for stirring up spiritual hypochondria. Let’s not go there.
In the same way, it’s useful to be aware of the existence of sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean it’s useful to see “sexual abuse” everywhere. If somebody pats you on the back, that doesn’t necessarily mean “sexual abuse.”
Yes, it’s very useful to know what is and isn’t a cult. If you are concerned about whether or not a group qualifies as “cult,” all the topics discussed below will be helpful.
1. Cults involve religions.
False. Cults are groups with an insidious kind of dynamic. Being mainstream or religious or oddball religious has nothing to do with it.
Some of the most dangerous cults are popular religions. Others are political organizations, social clubs, even multi-level marketing groups.
2. Cults refer to themselves Cults.
False. This is one universally true thing about cults. Never does a cult consider itself a cult.
Cult members do often call themselves The Movement.
3. Cult members are weak, self-engrossed, selfish, and easily manipulated.
False. Many cult members are some of the biggest idealists around. Many are trying to make the world perfect. Others are trying to make themselves perfect. Often cult members are going for both, sacrificing far more than they know.
All cult members have a vulnerability. It could be a long-term problem or a situational vulnerability, such as being a young adult or recently divorced.
Sometimes cult membership is part of a family culture, so the child is vulnerable to pressure of the family system.
It’s pretty cruel to call cult members “selfish,” etc. Unbeknownst to themselves their behavior may sure seem that way. One person’s fear becomes another person’s perceived “selfishness” or “self-absorption”.
4. Cult members feel superior to everyone outside their cult.
Trick question. True for beginners. They feel increasingly secure, as if all their problems have been magically solved or soon will be.
But false for rank-and-file members. Despite believing they’re saved by virtue of membership in the group, secretly, cult members tend to feel guilty.
Over the years, what happens? Despite following all the rules of the cult, perfection hasn’t been reached. And what does it mean that all problems haven’t been solved? The cult member “must” have worse shortcomings than others in The Movement.
Little do long-term cult members know that the unofficial motto for every cult is You’ll never be good enough.
5. Each cult has the greatest leader in the world.
True, if you’re a believer. If not, maybe not.
As a non-cultie who is also an aura reader, you can spot coercive hooks emanating from a charismatic cult leader. Or find them when researching cord items as part of cutting a cord of attachment.
6. Cults take your money.
False. Not at first, anyway. With deeper involvement, more may be asked of you, though.
7. Cults brainwash their members.
True, except that being a True Believer in any system never feels like being brainwashed.
Instead, you’re intellectually thrilled because this new belief system makes sense like nothing you’ve heard before. Special terms become your favorite way to interpret reality. In The Movement, you wind up making this jargon your own, then speaking it constantly.
It’s hard for spiritual organizations to stay pure. Money and power corrupt.
8. Cult leaders tell you the truth.
True. Inside information, secrets, deep esoteric information — such is the appeal of many a cult.
An extreme example is how Mormons build entirely separate structures for people who haven’t yet entered their community of “saints.” It’s seemingly a privilege to learn the real truths of one’s cult.
To learn more about how the Church of Latter-Day Saints can be a cult for many members, see an amazingly powerful book by the great Martha Beck, Leaving the Saints.
False. Every cult leader lies. Sooner or later, deeper into cult involvement, each member may be informed about some of the lies. Yet, by that time, the mind control goes so deep that a cult member will usually push the truth into denial or otherwise justify the lie.
For example, the mantras used in Transcendental Meditation are the names of Hindu gods. From the very first TM talk, new meditators are told that these mantras are “meaningless sounds whose effects are known.”
When I was on my TM Teacher Training Course in Mallorca, Spain, in 1971, one fellow came up to the microphone to ask our leader, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. about this. The guy was a Sanskrit scholar. I don’t believe Maharishi ever answered that question. I don’t believe that man was allowed to stay on the course, either, although I can’t be sure.
I do know for sure that, in 1986, I stumbled across a TM-Ex website that listed mantras and the corresponding Hindu gods. Only years later did I remember that aberrant episode, and the magnitude of Maharishi’s lie about mantras.
This started my own process of cult exiting. For the following year or so, I realized that Maharishi had lied in other ways, including some personal conversations we had. One important step in deprogramming from a cult is locating the lies, pulling them out of your subconscious mind as needed.
9. Cults show great respect for their members.
True. At the beginning. It’s such a courtship, wow! The new cult member is making such great progress!!!!!!!
False. Deeper into the cult process, members are treated with indifference, cruelty, or worse. Certain people are rewarded while others are disrespected.
This dynamic helps cult members to stay hooked. Why are they not being rewarded? Aren’t they good enough? How much harder do they need to work to recruit new members, or do volunteer work, or meditate, etc?
Maybe then they will become good enough to be treated with respect again.
10. Courage is required to live free from cults.
True. It takes enormous courage. Ironically, this is different from the kind of courage you’re told about if you belong to a cult. (Any of you Blog-Buddies know what I mean here? Stories invited!)
Not being involved in a cult, you lose out on glamour and having all the answers. Instead, you need to think for yourself.
Saying goodbye to a cult, you may not be considered “right” all the time. You might have friends with different beliefs. You might not agree with everything said by everyone who matters to you.
You will need to use internal validation, an internal locus of control, rather than having the group tell you when you are right, or valuable, or “making progress.”
All of us long to belong. Only you can decide for yourself what price is exacted for any group’s gift of belonging.
My favorite resource for cult exiting
Steve Hassam has written a couple of books in the field of exit counseling. The one I have read is Combatting Cult Mind Control. Superb!