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How to Start Your Own Cult
(and Why You Probably Wouldn't Want To)


by George A. Boyd ©1988

First published in The Whole Life Times July 1988

Are you bored with the 9 to 5? Want to do something different? Would you like to work for yourself and gain the approbation of other people? Try starting a Cult.

Welcome to my cult!

How to Start Your Cult

It is first important to create a mystique about yourself. Hire a public relations person (or a friend will do if you're low on cash) to portray you as someone mysterious, exotic, possessed of supernal powers and charisma. It is important to come from a mystic sounding country like India, Tibet, Egypt, or "the Holy Land." In lieu of actually coming from there, you can have studied there and thus gained the mystic powers of the Adepts that live in the remote, forbidden recesses of Nature...atop craggy peaks, in mold-encrusted caves, in ancient forests full of tigers, snakes and horrible insects as large as your hand.

Next, have a group of friends circulate stories about you, that you have been away on a long journey, and you have returned...different...and you have become possessed of some mysterious power and presence. They may then praise your abilities to transmit energy (call it Shakti!), to heal, to put other people into profound states of meditation, to awaken faith in God...

After this networking has aroused some interest and curiosity, hold your first public meeting, preferably at a large hall. Poster the city and hand out leaflets, and leave flyers at bookstores, health food stores, and local markets.

Prior to your first meeting, you'll need to do some research. You'll need to know how to do a guided meditation, and how to induce a light hypnotic trance in a group. Practice in front of a mirror to obtain a powerful gaze...and talk slowly, monotonously, in a deep, sonorous voice.

Leave lots of pregnant, lingering, seductive silences in between your words. Change your tone mid-message from near whispering to shouting. Watch how powerful speakers evoke tears, anger, cheers, shame, and exultation—emulate their style of stimulating powerful emotions.

Prepare a speech that promises that you and your new religion (or amazing discovery, secret Yoga, true doctrine, esoteric technique) will satisfy people's inner needs: to be loved, to be happy, to be popular, to be wealthy, to be healthy, to be powerful and dynamic, to attain the heights of Spiritual Realization, to be pleasing to God and/or members of the opposite sex. Make claims of exclusivity and superiority, and actively ridicule other groups or faiths, calling them evil, satanic, deluded, leading the ignorant to destruction and woe...or hell...or the perils of transmigration...or worse!

Intersperse your speech with adjectives praising your method or discovery, but make no claims for yourself. Those that introduce you should give a jaw-dropping, awe and respect-inspiring testimonial about you.

Enter to music that sets the mood you want to create: worship, serenity, triumph, majesty. Have lighting that accents your entrance, soft background lighting that will give the appearance of having a radiant aura around you. Complete the atmosphere by having fresh flowers, incense, with wisps of scented oils in the air. Place a large picture of yourself in a high place behind the podium with the name of your group or church—high enough so that people will have to raise their eyes every time they look at it. Stand above them and talk with powerful, dramatic body language.

Simplify everything. Talk as if you were explaining to a 12 year old child. Appear completely confident of your claims, and make eye contact with your audience when you want to emphasize a point. Create a simple doctrine, a simple cosmology with an All-Powerful, All-Protecting Being. Drop hints and inferences (don't make direct assertions or claims) that you are a special representative or Incarnation of this Being here on Earth by way of metaphors and parables. Purposely leave everything vague and never fully define your meanings, so that people leave stirred up inside...asking themselves, "who is he/she?"...what did he/she mean by that?"

After your speech, lead them in prayer or a guided meditation, easing them into a light hypnotic trance state. While they are coming out of trance, tell them where they can go to learn more, why it is crucial that they come, why they desperately need what you have come to bring. Have people hand out flyers to the audience as they leave to reinforce where and when your ongoing meetings will be held. Have handsome well-dressed men and attractive women act as door monitors and ushers, and have "counselors" available to assure the troubled and confused members of the audience that they ..."have come to the right place" and "the answer is here."

Meetings should further affirm your basic message. There should be more testimonials, more praise of you and your Way, with simple participatory rituals (a potluck dinner, holding hands in prayer, having each person tell about themselves in a small group with the rest of the group applauding after they speak) to create a sense of belonging.

The retreat or initiation comes next. After attending a required number of introductory meetings, the seeker is "let into the inner circle" and "permitted to partake of the Mysteries." This can be formalized by a simple baptism or flower-offering ceremony, plus learning a special, secret prayer or mantramic formula, or some other esoteric method. Coupling this method with whispering, touching the forehead or anointing the head with chrism oil, together with soft evocative background music and fragrant scents will further imprint the experience into the subconscious mind.

Shaping of the new "initiate" is done by attacking and replacing belief systems with cult doctrine, and by finding fault with his/her behavior. Good, cult-approved behavior is praised; non-approved behavior is condemned. Eventually, cult doctrine comes to replace much of the initiate's own beliefs, thinking about cult philosophy and proscribed ethics comes to occupy his/her thoughts, and being involved in cult commitments and events occupies much of the spare time away from work and home.

Further commitment and responsibilities within the cult make leaving and repudiating the doctrine even more difficult. Having offices or titles locks the followers into roles, and turns them into permanent representatives of the message you proclaim.

When the "movement" is established, you will only have to give talks to them periodically to inspire their faith and commitment. Your trusted lieutenants will take over much of the proselytization activity and fund-raising efforts, so that with a little help from a lawyer and an accountant you can guarantee yourself a well-to-do lifestyle with little effort...

The Human Cost of Cultism

Now that we have journeyed together on this imaginary voyage of you starting your own cult and ensuring your fame and fortune, let us pause for a moment and consider the human cost of cultism, and why this apparently easy and seductive path to power, fame and wealth is not so prudent a path, after all.

A little spare-time observation of television evangelism, local churches and places of worship, or charismatic cults will reveal many of these methods in action, much to the detriment of those who are swept up in its illusions and emotional maelstrom.

Physically, people neglect their diet and sleep, and exhaust themselves in pursuit of cult-prescribed activities, inviting disease and ill health. Too ardent pursuit of meditation can further lead to sensory hallucinations and delusional perception.

Emotionally, people become obsessed with ideas implanted by cult doctrine. Their self- esteem becomes distorted, tending either toward grandiosity or self-depreciation. They become tortured by feelings of guilt, failure, fear, rage, shame, and bitter regret. Their emotional serenity is shattered.

Mentally, people little by little lose the ability to think for themselves: to critically evaluate, to make independent judgements, to make decisions, to separate reality from fantasy. Their will becomes weakened, and they no longer resist the seductive and hypnotic suggestions of cult doctrine...their lives come under the control of others.

Personally, their beliefs and behaviors increasingly become dictated from without. They cease to direct their own lives. Instead, group mandate becomes personal mandate, group goals become personal goals. Attribution to self and to one's own efforts are supplanted by attribution to metaphysical, spiritual, or archetypal sources. Ultimately the leader or divinity comes to occupy the central place in the person's life, and all the issues of life are seen to come from the leader.

Spiritually, people in cults develop devotion or fanaticism, detachment or feverish over-involvement, and taste the extremes of ecstasy and despair. There is rarely sober reflection, inner silence, and the balance of intentionality and wisdom that marks maturity. Indeed, cultic groups feed on extremism, infantilizing their followers and training them in immaturity and dependence.

These effects combine to make involvement in cults at best a waste of a person's precious time and at worst the waste of a person's life.

Do you still want to start a cult?

How to Steer Clear of Cults

OK, you really are not motivated by greed, lust for power, and an exaggerated sense of personal worth and preoccupation with your...Mission from God. You are genuinely altruistic, honest, seeking the truth, motivated by a desire only to serve and to love. Where do you find a group to learn with safely, or conversely, how do you safely start your own group without causing damage to other people's lives?

There are several principles that you can look for. Though these are not always indicative of good fruit within the container, they are leading indicators of, at least, sincere intentions:

1) FREE EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION. The information in the group is presented without claims of its exclusivity or superiority. It does not deter members from seeking other sources of information; indeed, it often encourages its members to go to those more expert and qualified to teach certain skills or methods. It encourages a broad understanding of religion and philosophy, and does not stress emotionalized, narrow interpretations.

2) RECOGNITION OF THE HUMANITY OF THE LEADERS. Although respect for the lofty spiritual attainments of the genuine adepts and preceptors of humanity is appropriate, to deify the leader of a group and to deny his/her humanity is to make a crucial error. These individuals do not cease to have a personality and have the potential to fall from grace. They may have learned over many years of discipline how to control their tendencies of mind, and how to readily transcend the personality, but this does not mean that latent or unconscious tendencies have ceased to operate. Given the right circumstances, they too can be seen to be overcome by passions, to blunder and sin.

3) HUMILITY. Genuine humility is a recognition of how much a person has yet to learn. It is a remembrance of and gratitude to those who have given of their strength, wisdom and guidance. No man "knows it all" and grandiose notions should quickly vanish upon the dawning of "the Light of Infinitude," or the "Vision of the Beloved of Hearts."

4) TRUTHFULNESS. To the senses, truth is the verifiably real. To the emotions, truth is confession of real feelings and motives. To the mind truth is accuracy and consistency. To the personality, truth is integrity: promises and actions coincide. To the spirit, Truth is the Ineffable Source from which it comes.

Truth is an intuitive conviction, an inner knowing of the law of the heart. It cannot be codified by philosophy, dictated by religion or authority, or enforced upon the human spirit.

When truth is communicated, it speaks directly to the heart, and it is filled with love. It does not impose its values, threaten or cajole, browbeat or persuade—but the heart knows that it is true.

If truth is spoken in the group, by the leader or anyone else, the heart will know it. If authority is acceded to Scripture, to the Master or Teacher, to God or gods above the human heart: question, and question yet again.

5) RESPECT FOR THE DIGNITY OF THE INDIVIDUAL. If the group prescribes one panacea for all human needs, it denies the malleability of situation and the infinite variety of our human condition. The medicine that works for one person does not work for another; the method that transports one soul to ineffable realms of bliss has no effect for another. Either the method produces the result, or it doesn't—trying to obscure this with rationalizations, procrastination and explanation is diversion. The method must respect the nature of the person's needs and situation, and most of all it must respect a person's free choice and independent judgement. It must allow him/her the right to learn from the consequences if need be, or not to learn...and to choose his/her own path.

6) GENUINE LOVE AND DEVOTION. Love and devotion that is engineered through effusive testimonials and the creation of a legend about the leader does not last. Where there is spontaneous love and devotion springing from the heart, where people do not have to exhorted to love or to worship, you may look for a genuine tradition. When the Beloved is seen, the heart does not have to be told who or where the Beloved is, it knows...and it loves.

7) PRACTICE OF SPIRITUAL VALUES AND SERVICE TO HUMANITY. It is one thing to have a noble philosophy, another to live it.
Look for deviation between the teacher's prescription and what is his/her own behavior. Deeper than beliefs and philosophy is character; how a person actually lives, speaks more eloquently than volumes of discourse.


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