Monday, June 24, 2024

Tales of Cults and Charismatic Leaders

By Jeck G. Tirambulo | Features Editor

Vol. XCI No. 15

Jan. 24, 2020

Some cult-inspired movies such as The Wicker Man and Midsommar made us believe just what cults are capable of when they’re run by mentally derailed leaders and members. Be it for the glory of the devil or of God, their rituals are always accompanied by human sacrifices akin to that of the Mayans. For instance, the major characters in the aforementioned movies were set ablaze to fulfill what ‘thy should be done’ as compliance with their cult’s beliefs. These gruesome scenes have always been significant in shaping our perception towards cults; they’re abominable and should not have existed in the first place. Some of us might have even wondered if events portrayed in those cult-based movies were true to life, and if they’re as horrible as what films described it to be. Good thing cult historians gave us answers. Although a lot of cults and cult leaders did some remarkable impression by committing disturbing acts to its followers, here are the worst that have appeared recently in our history:

The Heaven’s Gate cult

Led by Marshall Applewhite, this cult which started in 1975 believed that human bodies are just containers that could be abandoned in favor of a higher physical existence. They believed that the ”kingdom of heaven” awaits them and only an extraterrestrial spaceship would take them there. They also regarded themselves as a group that was made up of Christian-based angels, with sexual abstinence as an advocacy (where some of its followers underwent castration). When the Hale-Bopp comet passed near Earth in 1997, Applewhite and his 38 followers committed suicide by drinking a lethal mixture of vodka and phenobarbital, hoping that they will get to ride on the spaceship (Hale-Bopp comet) to the Heaven’s Gate.

The Peoples Temple cult

Suicide through drinking lethal concoctions seems to be prevalent among cults. About 40 years ago, Rev. Jim Jones, a charismatic leader of the American cult based in the Guyanese jungle, ordered his followers to commit one of the largest single incidents of intentional civilian death in the American history. Jones was a charismatic leader who described himself as a savior and a reincarnation of Jesus and Budhha. His followers were brainwashed into immersing themselves fully for the church’s utopian cause. Hence, they turned over their personal wealth, did unpaid long hours of work for the church, and many of them have severed their contacts with their families. Paranoid that the US was constantly prone to an apocalypse, Jones relocated his church to the remote jungle in Guyana, South America. There, they converted the area into an agricultural community where they initially planned to build a utopian society that is free from government and media meddling and called it “Jonestown”. After reports of abuses among his followers, the US government sent a team composed of a congressman and some media persons to investigate Jonestown. Jones has been long manipulating his followers by conducting mandatory propaganda classes, hence, even before the arrival of the investigation team, he already had his followers turned into an aggressive army. Armed with guns and machetes, Jones’ guards (called the Red Brigade) surrounded the Jonestown, threatening to fight any outsiders to death. Upon the killing of some members sent by the US to investigate, Jones’ ordered his 900 followers (many were children) to commit mass murder-suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced concoction. 

The Order of the Solar Temple cult

Another lunatic who made it to the list of Jesus reincarnations was Joseph DiMambro. He founded the Order of the Solar Temple cult after establishing a money-making organization, the Golden Way Foundation, which also served as a link between people who have a passion for occultism. Similar to the Heaven’s Gate cult, this cult believed that after their deaths, DiMambro’s child, whom he called the Cosmic Child, would lead them to a planet orbiting the star Sirius. The existence of their cult was held in secrecy and if someone inside their ring tries to reveal the horrible secrets, they will be disposed brutally. They surprised the world in 1994 after a total of 51 dead bodies were found in their bases in Switzerland and Canada in just a span of one week. The manner of how they died was either through the taking of their own lives or through ritualistic murders. Burnt corpses were also discovered. 

The Branch Davidian cult

While most cults gained popularity due to their inclination towards suicide as the climax of their beliefs, the Branch Davidian cult had it done differently. Although it was founded to prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming, the journey of this cult went haywire after the Waco siege in 1993. It’s leader, David Koresh, took control of the group and convinced his followers to live in a compound outside Mount Carmel. While posing as a religious sect, the cult was actually into collecting weapons that led to a 51-day siege with the FBI. The chaos resulted in casualties of 75 people (including children) that changed the way some Americans felt about their government.

Most cults have common denominators. Money, sex, and power. While some hold true to their cause, others are merely tools to gain power and control over people. The worst cults however, have one thing in common. They are led by extremely charismatic leaders whom at most times, coax themselves as saviors or higher beings. Whereas most cult-based movies were focused on making disgusting tales about the devil and sort of what it’s followers can do; history speaks differently. 

The irony of it all.


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