How I Know I’m Not in a Cult


When I was twenty I spent a day and a night with the Moonies. The story begins on a street corner in San Francisco as my boyfriend and I came up from a BART exit wearing our backpacks and were snagged by a recruiter. It ends with us walking down a deserted country road in the middle of the night while a group of people chanted “choo choo choo, choo choo choo, yay yay pow!” after us. The highlight is when my boyfriend managed to snag a moment alone with me to say urgently, “We have to get out of here. Something’s wrong. These people smile all the time.”

The experience has made me a cult-watcher. I avidly devour books written by ex-members making daring escapes on buses and motorcycles, planning exit strategies with their families on burner cell phones.

I belong to Ordo Templi Orientis, I’m a member of a coven, I sometimes work with a Golden Dawn group. Some people describe any esoteric group as a cult. It takes more than a minority spiritual belief to earn the title though. Cults take your money, your choices, your family and your time. The trouble is people get sucked into groups only to wake up years later realizing they’ve been had. So how can I tell that I’m not being strung along right now?

Here’s how I know:

  • I can read criticism and not feel as if I’m waking up. No one thinks less of me for reading criticism of the group or engaging in criticism myself.
  • I’m not a true believer. I don’t think my spiritual path is the best in the world, just the one that’s right for me. I don’t think the groups I belong to are perfect. I don’t feel like I’m saving the world.
  • No one tells me who to marry, who my friends are, or asks me to cut people out of my life if they leave the group.
  • They don’t ask for my money. I pay annual dues to O.T.O. – I also pay annual dues to the AARP, PMI, ACLU, and other organizations.

Also, the other people in my magical groups have a normal range of emotions. They get mad, they celebrate successes, they mourn losses. They’re not constantly angry and, the spookiest affect of all, they’re not smiling all the time.

1 reply
  1. Mariyn Holt
    Mariyn Holt says:

    Brandy, this is so well put. It’s succinct and to the point. In reading this, an idea that I first had quite a while ago, is that the people who belong to the alt right are in a cult, or perhaps several overlapping cults (a cult of cults?) that regulate all the aspects of their lives that you list.

    Reply

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