Religious cults have views that differ from larger, accepted religions and beliefs that outsiders consider dangerous or extreme. Let’s learn about some religious cults and their ideologies.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) split from Mormonism in 1890 when they refused to stop practicing polygamy. The FLDS is a religious sect based predominantly around the Hilldale and Colorado City area on the Utah-Arizona border in the USA.
Warren Jeffs led the cult, controlled the practice of spiritual marriage, and assigned wives to husbands. He was the only person able to perform marriages, and he could punish his followers by reassigning their wives and children to other men. Jeffs allegedly threw younger male members out of the church as they were a threat to wife accumulation.
In April 2008, a police raid resulted in 460 children being taken into protective custody. They were returned to their families, but criminal investigations into spiritual marriages and sexual relations with minors were opened. Jeffs made the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list and was captured during a routine traffic stop.
Rajneeshpuram was a creative religious community named after the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Antelope, Oregon, in 1981.
It attracted thousands of young devotees from across the world, and followers called themselves Sanyasins. They wore reddish orange ochre-died robes, changed their names, and renounced all worldly goods and possessions. They lived together communally, and children had their own dorm often not seeing their parents.
The Rajneeshpuram manifesto advocated for free love that included practices of tantric yoga, nudity, free sex, and psycho-spiritual therapy. They discouraged reproduction and supported contraception and abortion.
The group was also known for one of the largest wiretapping operations in U.S. history and the largest immigration fraud ever recorded in the U.S. In an attempt to rig a local election, members spread salmonella bacteria in Dalles, Oregon, in 1988.
Scientology was started by science fiction author L . Ron Hubbard in 1952. It has been called a cult and a manipulative profit-making business.
Scientology teaches that a human is an immortal spiritual being called a Thetan that resides in a physical body and has many past lives. It asserts that people have hidden abilities that have not been fully realized and that the process of freeing the individual is the fundamental purpose of their religion.
To become free or Clear, members need to understand themselves as spiritual beings and as engram energy clusters that inhibit the Thetan from functioning freely. An engram is a detailed mental image or memory of a traumatic event from the past. Members are charged large amounts of money to access texts that explain that previous lives were lived in extraterrestrial cultures.
The group has been known for criminal activity, such as teaching medicine without a license, fraud, and spying on law enforcement agencies.
Thuggee and the Cult of Kali
The Thuggee were a cult of killers and a secret society in India that originated in the 16th century. They were not discovered until 1812, when Great Britain expanded their territories in India and uncovered a series of mysterious deaths. In 1810 bodies of 30 victims were found hidden in wells in the Ganges area.
The Thuggee strangled more than 30,000 people in the 1830s as a sacrifice to the goddess Kali, the Hindu triple goddess of creation, preservation, and destruction. Membership was hereditary, and practitioners were trained from childhood to kill using strangulation. The weapon, a Rumal, was worn knotted around the waist.
The group had strange ethic codes such as no killing musicians, dancers, sweepers, oil vendors, carpenters, blacksmiths, Gange’s water carriers, or women. They also believed in shedding no blood. The minimum age for initiation into the Thuggee was ten, and their first sacrificial kill happened at 18.
Children of God
Children of God, now known as The Family International, are a Christian communal group that grew out of the ministry of David Berg in 1968. It started in California, USA and members sought to share the message of Christian love and Berg’s prophecies.
The group believed that Berg was God’s end-time messenger, and in 1974, members spread throughout the world to live communally and spread Berg’s message. In 1978 there was a significant reorganization of the group where they changed their name and encouraged members to free themselves from sexual inhibitions and taboos.
Berg encouraged “flirty fishing,” a practice where female members flirted with men to spread God’s word, often leading to sexual acts. Sexual sharing was also encouraged among adults and children in the group. In 1983 there was a decline in sexual activity, and child protection rules were implemented, but the sharing among adults continued.
Berg died in 1994 and was succeeded by his wife, who leads the group today.
The Church of Euthanasia
Ex-DJ Chris Korda started the Church of Euthanasia in 1992. and the guiding principle of this anti-human religion was “Thou Shalt not Procreate.”
Members of the group were worried about climate change and overpopulation and had an anti-humanism manifesto. They were inspired by Dadaism, the political art movement developed in reaction to WWI. Church members expressed alarm at the destruction of the environment and believed the only solution was voluntary population reduction.
They were active mainly during the 1990s and early 2000s, and their protest campaigns were structured around environmentalism, abortion rights, and animal rights. The religion had four pillars which were suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy.
Their pro-suicide advocacy started in 1995 when they attempted to set up a hotline for people looking for instructions on how to commit suicide. Their slogan was “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.”
The WFLK Fountain of the World
The WFLK Fountain of the World cult was started by Francis Pencovic in 1951 and was a religious community in the San Fernando Valley, California.
Pencovic, who went by Krishna Venta, claimed to be the second coming of Christ and said he came from the planet Neophrates. The group lived communally and had four cardinal virtues: wisdom, faith, love, and knowledge.
Venta preached about an impending World War III between Russia and America, coinciding with a race war. He said Russia would win and WFLK Fountain of the World members would create a new world. In 1958 Venta was assassinated by two former members when they used dynamite at the group’s compound.
It is alleged that Charles Manson and his group stayed at the Fountain of the World in 1968 before moving to Spahn Ranch. Venta’s apocalyptic race war and Manson’s “Helter Skelter” idea have parallels.