“Man is a social animal. He who lives without society is either a beast or God” said Aristotle when explaining why man must belong to a community. The English poet and clergyman, John Donne surmised this truism as “no man is an island”. This expresses the idea that every living person who lives today was born to a woman and would be buried by others when he/she dies, and during life, (s)he will need the goods, services, and help provided by other people. Today, the aphorism “loners are losers” expresses the idea that those who lack a community have a poor quality of life. Likewise, this aphorism also applies to cults are a substitute to a community.

In What is a Cult?, a cult is described as a new religious movement whose goal is to become a mainstream religion, hence the popular aphorism that is expressed as an equation:

Cult × Time = Mainstream Religion.

This aphorism reveals that the most vital interest for any cult is to survive (i.e. exist long enough) until it is recognized as a mainstream religion. For this reason, cults are based on ideas, and hence can be described as ideological movements with religious goals. This differentiates cults from secret societies whose main goal is not necessarily to become a mainstream religion. Likewise, a cult is different from mainstreamed political sycophancy popularly known as cult of personality which ends with the death of the tyrant e.g the cult of personality of Josef Stalin ended when he died in 1953 following an unmanaged heart attack. Because the human lifespan is finite, any cult that ends after the death of its founder should be considered a cult of personality.

Is Christianity a Successful Cult?

Christianity started as a secret cult with secret rituals and veneration of a hero who had undergone apotheosis. It initially survived precariously and was hated by many of the Roman aristocrats. Still, it survived long enough while winning new adherents due to good marketing until it became a mainstream religion when Emperor Constantine first converted to Christianity in 312 C.E. In 381 C.E, Christianity became the sole religion of the Empire following an imperial edict issued by Theodosius I. Christianity is now the largest religion in the world and it reveals that a cult can successfully become a global religion. The same can be argued about the syncretic Abrahamic-Iranian religion called Bahai – or the Babi/Babiyyah Movement – whose adherents, popularly called Bahai’s, are scattered across the world though their number is about 5 million globally.

So, what makes the following 77 new religious movements to be regarded as cults, while the Bahai, Mormons, Ismailiyya, and Ahmadiyya are not considered cults? The criteria for identifying a cult are described in What is a Cult? . Now, let us consider the founders of cults.

Cults can be started by anti-intellectuals such as the Malindi Starvation Cult which preached against formal education and clinical medicine. The Malindi Starvation Cult is an African-based cult with American roots that has been covered in this dedicated post, and will therefore not be listed among the 77 cults covered in this post. However, a similar Ugandan cult called Christ Disciples is covered here. Some of these African anti-intellectual cults can be violent such as Boko Haram which has been waging a deadly insurgency in North-East Nigeria since 2009. Likewise, cults established by African intellectuals can easily degenerate to become violent criminal outfits such as the Black Axe cult, which is an offshoot of the quasi-legal Neo-Black Movement that was founded at the University of Benin.

The ideology of cults shapes their goals, with some ideologies explicitly setting the cult on the path to achieving political power. This intersection between cult activity and political activism has powered political revolutions across history. The Taiping Cult of Heavenly Peace initiated a revolutionary war that ended up killing about 20 million people in China and catalyzed the fall of Imperial Political Power, besides laying the groundwork for the rise of popular political ideologies such as Communism – which became the dominant political ideology in China in 1949 after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, the ideology of the Taiping cult influenced Shoko Asahara when he developed the Cult of the Supreme Truth, popularly known as Aum Shinrikyo.

The Cult of Reason was associated with the bloody repression of the Christian clergy in revolutionary France, and its attempt to eradicate the worship of God (which is an expression of militant anti-deism) led to the creation of a rival cult – the Cult of the Supreme Being, which played a key role in the development of post-revolution Freemasonry (or Freemasonic Philosophy as explained by the French Occultists. These occultists include Alphonse Louis Constant who drew Baphomet and whose magnum opus, The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic, was influential in the development of Freemasonic philosophy by Albert Pike. In fact, Constant’s doctrines and arguments can be found in the Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry which was authored by Albert Pike. Additionally, the ideas of Constant influenced the Decadent Movement that existed at the dusk of the 20th Century.

Some cults revolutionized established Abrahamic religions. The Marian Cult, which is essentially a cult of Castilian Gnostics who were heavily influenced by the Cult of ISIS, changed both Christianity and Judaism forever. It is these Castilian Gnostics who influenced the development of the Kabbalah as explained in the Historical Development of the Kabbalah.

The aforementioned are pre-modern cults. This post focuses on modern cults that exist today or existed in 2000 C.E.

Current Cults

The following curation only covers modern cults. Choose a cult of interest from the list below and click on it to go to the section that describes the cult.

Because of the efforts and time that went into researching this topic and compiling these 77 cults, it is fair that only members are given access to the full post for now, while the non-members can request access or wait for a few weeks when the full post will be publicly available for all.
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