Welcome to the bizarre and often dangerous world of cults. We all know the saying, “too much of a good thing can be bad” and cults single-handedly prove this is true. Often based upon religious beliefs or philosophy (generally concerning aliens, as you’ll come to see), cults unsurprisingly find themselves excluded from society. This isolation tends to lead to obsession, and while some cults are pretty harmless albeit extremely wacky, others have kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the name of their beliefs or for their charismatic leaders.
You should never mix politics, religion, and sex but here are ten bizarre religious cults that have mixed all three and then some.
1. Heaven’s Gate
Founded in the 1970s by charismatic Marshall “Bo” Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, members of Heaven’s Gate believed that their leaders came to earth on a UFO to spread the message that our planet was being recycled, or wiped clean, and the only way to escape this cleansing was via a UFO.
In 1997 the police discovered the bodies of 39 members in the compound they had lived in; they had committed mass suicide in the hope of reaching an alien spacecraft they believed was trailing the Comet Hale–Bopp by taking phenobarbital mixed with apple sauce, washed down with vodka. They had also secured plastic bags around their heads after ingesting the mix, to induce asphyxiation. Beside each body, the police found a form of identification and a few dollars which they believed would cover their intergalactic travel fare. Applewhite was one of the last four cult members to die.
With more than 90,000 members worldwide, Raëlism is one of the biggest cults out there and has a belief system based on, you guessed it, aliens. Founder Claude Elohim, now known as Raël, claims he came into contact with a green-skinned alien named Yaweh who told him that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials called the Elohim. Appearing human in form, followers are told that these aliens were angels or gods. The cult also believes that messengers and prophets of the Elohim include Buddha, Moses, and Jesus.
If these far-out views weren’t enough, Raëlians also like to hit the headlines by creating a logo that blends the Star of David with a Swastika, and by claiming to have successfully cloned a human-being. So what if it isn’t the only alien worshipping cult out there? It stands out by being the most imaginative of the bunch.
It’s aliens again. Scientology may not be the biggest organization around that believes in extraterrestrial existence, but it sure is one of the most powerful and influential. It boasts an impressive amount of Hollywood A-list members (Tom Cruise for one) in its fold. Founded by L Ron Hubbard in 1952, Scientology is famous for its secretiveness and often bizarre practices. To study Scientology, members have to learn level by level; it’s often claimed that a typical Scientologist must spend several years and about $100,000 in auditing fees before reaching OT III: The Wall of Fire. This, by the way, is the story of galactic dictator Xenu, which we would attempt to explain the story of but honestly, it just messed with our minds too much – you can read about it here if you want.
If your pockets are empty, and your spare time is at a minimum then this probably isn’t the organization for you. And people often wonder why the Church of Scientology is often referred to as a business, or if they’re really feeling mean, a criminal enterprise.
4. Creativity Movement
No aliens this time, instead this cult is all about racism. This white-supremacist organization called Creativity Movement or “White Religion” is committed to the “survival and advancement of the white race.” In its spare time, it also likes to deny the Holocaust.
Essentially an atheist movement, the Creativity Movement doesn’t actually worship a creator or believe in anything supernatural. However, the group is well known for using violence and threats, most notably plotting to kill a federal judge. In 2002, two members of the movement were also found guilty of plotting to blow up Jewish and Black landmarks around Boston, in what prosecutors said was a scheme to spark a “racial holy war”.
5. Nation of Yahweh
On the flip side to Creativity Movement, the Nation of Yahweh is considered by many to be a black supremacist cult. Founded in Miami in the 1970s by Yahweh ben Yahweh, who incidentally is believed by members to be the son of God, the Nation of Yahweh’s ultimate goal is to return African Americans, who they see as the original Israelites, to Israel. Practicing neither Christianity nor Judaism, the cult has been accused of preaching about “white devils” and their need to be removed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
If you’re on the lookout for a cult that has a more, let’s say, “unique” belief system then Nuwaubianism might be for you. Upon joining you can soon expect to learn that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis apparently gave birth to Satan’s child in the Dakota House on 72nd Street in New York City. The birth was witnessed by the Pope (but of course) and the child was then handed over Richard Nixon to raise. If that sounds plausible, how about the Nuwaubian belief that aborted fetuses can somehow end up in the sewer where they grow up plotting to take over the world. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The cult was formed in the 1970s by Dwight York. He turned away from his Muslim background and created a loose Afro-centric / ancient Egypt theme, backed up by an eclectic mix of ideas that draw from Black Nationalism, cryptozoology, UFOs and popular conspiracy theories. In 1993 York left Brooklyn for Georgia, to build an ancient Egypt-themed compound called Tama-Re. By 2000, the cult drew as many as 5,000 visitors to the compound to attend “Savior’s Day”, which was coincidentally also York’s birthday. However, membership severely declined after York was sentenced to 135 years in prison for child molestation. Tama-Re was sold under government forfeiture and demolished in 2005.
7. Eastern Lightning
According to Eastern Lightning – or the “Church of Almighty God” as it’s also known – Jesus is back on Earth. This time, however, he has reincarnated in the form of a woman named Yang Xiangbin and she’s here to guide mankind for the third and final time. Big believers in doomsday, this cult boasts a large membership of over a million in China.
Branded by the Chinese government as terrorists, Eastern Lightning has been linked to crimes against other Christian groups which include kidnapping, torture, and murder. It’s claimed the group is responsible for the riots in Henan where members reportedly broke the arms and legs of victims, then cut their ears off for good measure.
8. Order of the Solar Temple
This highly secretive cult, based upon the Knights Templar order, was founded in Geneva by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984. The order’s belief system and practices combine a mixture of Christianity, UFO religion and New Age philosophy using adapted Freemason rituals. The cult was rumored to include several affluent and powerful Europeans in its membership. The Order of the Solar Temple came to global attention in 1994 after member Tony Dutoit murdered his infant son by repeatedly stabbing him with a wooden stake. It is claimed the murder was ordered by the cult’s founder, Di Mambro, who believed the infant to be the Antichrist.
Days after the murder, Di Mambro and other high-ranking members of the cult’s inner circle took part in a mass suicide. The bodies were discovered in two villages in Western Switzerland – 15 members had committed suicide with poison, 30 had been killed by bullets or smothering, and eight were killed by various other methods. Many of the victims were found in secret underground chapels, which were lined with mirrors and other items of Templar symbolism. The bodies were dressed in ceremonial robes and laid in a circle, feet together, heads facing outward.
9. The People’s Temple
he People’s Temple was founded in the 1950s by Jim Jones. It was founded on Christian and economic principals at the start. After facing accusations of abuse, Jones moved his church to Guyana, where his community became known as Jonestown. Leo Ryan, a US congressman became curious of the cult’s behavior, and went to Jonestown to try to find some answers. He was met with hostility and was eventually shot and killed before he could depart.
In 1978, Jones asked his followers to make the ultimate sacrifice. He asked them to drink his homemade brew, consisting of cyanide, sedatives, and juice. They accepted, and over 900 bodies were eventually found, almost a third of which were children. Jones himself was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
10. Church of Euthanasia
The Church of Euthanasia’s happy-go-lucky slogans include “Save the planet, kill yourself” and “Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus”. Political rather than being based on religion, the organization’s core philosophy is that the planet is overpopulated. The number one golden rule of the Church of Euthanasia is “Thou Shalt Not Procreate”. The church openly encourages suicide, abortion, sodomy and even cannibalism – but you can only practice that if you don’t actually kill the person you’re about to eat. If someone’s already dead, munch away!
The Church of Euthanasia uses sermons, music, dark humor and publicity stunts to draw attention to Earth’s unsustainable population. One such stunt occurred on the church’s website which listed instructions on “how to kill yourself” by asphyxiation using helium. These instructions were removed when legal action was threatened after a 52-year-old woman used them to commit suicide. The website is also well known for hosting a music video containing footage of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers with hardcore pornography mixed in. The video was titled “I Like to Watch”.
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