We're all too aware of the idea of the twisted, murderous cult - but why in the hell do people join them? Signing your life away for a band of weird people in robes in the middle of nowhere may seem totally crazy, but all sorts of people join cults... life is stranger than movies...
Why Are We Fascinated By Cults?
A whole bunch of movies concern life within a cult: The Sacrament, Rosemary's Baby, House of the Devil, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Kevin Smith's excellent action-horror Red State all deal with the topic. The simple answer is that we like to watch movies about things we have not experienced ourselves... other explanations include the idea of 'rubbernecking'; the habit of gawking at something terrible so that we feel better about ourselves.
What is a Cult, Exactly?
Cult expert Margaret Singer defines the key aspect of a cult as 'intense relationships between followers and a powerful idea or leader,' but there are more signs to look for. According to Psychology Today, these include:
Powerful and exclusive dedication/devotion to an explicit person or creed.
They use of “thought-reform” programmes to integrate, socialize, persuade and therefore control members.
A well thought through recruitment, selection and socialization process.
Attempts to maintain psychological and physical dependency among cult members.
Cults insist on reprogramming the way people see the world.
Consistent exploitation of group members specifically to advance the leaders goals.
Cults nearly always go in for milieu control signals: a different,unfamiliar setting with different rules, terms, behaviour patterns.
Ultimately using psychological and physical harm to cult members, their friends and relatives and possibly the community as a whole.
What Kind of People Lead Cults?
Cult leaders are typically magnetic and charismatic, and according to psychologist Robert Hare, experiencing Narcissistic Personality Disorder. To put it mildly, we all need love and attention to a certain extent, but cult leaders crave unmitigated devotion from many people, thriving on other people's total commitment to them above all other concerns. They are dangerous manipulators and will twist emotions - including their own - to fit with their own idea of how things should be.
Real Life Examples of Cults
The Manson Family, Jonestown, Heaven's Gate and the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas are the most famous killer cults in history, but there have been many. Check out this article for details on lesser known deadly cults.