The word “Cult” has not always had such a negative connotation attached to it. Many religions would’ve been considered cults when they first began. By the end of the 19th century many visionaries had revealed radically new religious systems, claiming immunity to the impurities of the old ones (Powers, 1997). These were no more than a group of people organizing themselves in worship and devotion for a person, object, or movement. They practiced rituals different to other “mainstream” religions, and were therefore considered cults.
Nowadays when people hear the word “Cult” they immediately think of brainwashing, bombings, murders, and people who have turned away from our society. This is primarily because of what has happened with cults in the past. Cults like the Ant hill kids, the serpent handlers, the people’s temple, and one of the most famous, the Manson Family. Some, like the serpent handlers, had odd and dangerous rituals. Others, like the People’s Temple, ended with mass suicides. And then there are those like the Manson Family, who brutally murder innocent people. They all started out with a leader, who preaches their extreme beliefs to others. From this, a group of members is formed, and the cult is created. To lure people into their dark world, both violent and nonviolent cults often prey on people who are emotionally confused or distraught (Fennel, 1993). Linda James, a Montreal clinical psychologist, says that in some cases, cults become families for the vulnerable while offering to fulfill an individual's fantasies. Explains James: “They can offer wealth or the perfect relationship.'' (1993). The conceptualization of afﬁliation as brainwashing has been an inﬂuential theory of involvement in nontraditional religious groups or cults, which attempts to explain why otherwise normal individuals would change their lifestyle and beliefs in a relatively short period of
Time after coming into contact with one of these groups (Healey, 2011).
While individual cultic groups may vary in discipline (political, religious, social/philosophical), they often operate with a similar premise: the world is bad, we are good, become a part of us (Salande & Perkins, 2011). Viewing the world in this way is not, in and of itself, destructive; and many mainstream religious and political movements embrace similar philosophies (2011). However, cult leaders often reinforce these ideas in frightening ways. By making their members use hallucinogens, sleep deprivation, group sex, strict prayer rituals, and deprogramming. Deprogrammers usually used “facts” about their religious group to shake up the person’s faith, this confrontation would often transpire in intense, emotionally charged situations (Donald & Robbins, 1982). The point of this was to rid the cult member of their ego, and past beliefs. The goal was for the member to have a blank slate, they could then me made to believe whatever the cult leader wanted them to.