Aleister Crowley and the Order of Oriental Templars

New Religious Movements

Aleister Crowley was the founding member of Ordo Templi Orientis – the Order of Oriental Templars –  or Order of the Temple of the East; otherwise known as OTO. He was born into an upper class-family in 1875 and fashioned himself as ’the Greatest Beast, 666’. Richard Price in his article, published in the Daily Mail in April 2013, describes OTO as an even more sinister, creepy ‘religion’ than Scientology. This Satanic sex cult, Price states, is attracting and ‘snaring’ celebrities such as Peaches Geldof, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and rapper Jay – Z who uses ‘imagery and quotations’ from Crowley’s work.  

Price describes Crowley, OTO’s founding ‘prophet’, as ‘an unabashed occultist’ who before his death in 1947, revelled in his notoriety as ‘the wickedest man in the world’. His forms of worship included ‘sadomasochistic sex rituals with men and women, spells which he claimed could raise malevolent gods and the use of hard drugs, including opium, cocaine, heroin and mescaline’.It is reported that here, in the UK, there are now OTO lodges scattered around the country, practising the same ceremonial rituals and spreading the word of Crowley.

Richard Price went to meet with the head of OTO in the UK, John Bonner, 62. The meeting took place at Bonner’s home in East Sussex where he told Price that in the UK their organisation numbers in the hundreds whilst worldwide it is thousands. Bonner objects to any comparison made between Scientology and OTO and points out that it is ‘extremely expensive’ to study Scientology, whilst OTO demands no financial contributions.

The article refers to a former FBI agent, Ted Gundersen, who whilst investigating Satanic circles in LA found that Crowley’s teachings about ‘raising demons to do one’s bidding’ suggested human sacrifice, preferably of ‘an intelligent young boy’. John Bonner during his meeting with Price dismissed any suggestion that he and other believers in OTO would ‘even begin to countenance such excesses’. He did accept though, that many people may not be able to deal with Crowley’s ‘complex teachings’.  Bonner states that, ‘our rituals are not for public consumption. You need to join us and go through the initiation process before you can begin to understand’.

Crowley’s motto, perpetuated by OTO, was ‘do what thou wilt’; and Bonner promotes this in his comment in the interview with Price when he refers to the exercising of free will as being what they are all about. Price suggests that this individualistic approach has led to a lasting fascination among artists and celebrities. Rapper Jay-Z, Price points out, has given the sect very useful publicity through the wearing a T-shirt inscribed with ‘Do what thou wilt’ or and through his clothing line, Rocawear through which he uses OTO imagery such as the ancient Egyptian symbol, frequently referenced in occult texts – the ‘eye of Horus’, and the head of Baphomet (the horned, androgynous idol of Western occultism). Richard price points out that whilst OTO could appear to be a used as just a ‘marketing opportunity for attention-seeking celebs’, it is, in fact, a living religion, with believers still practising occult rituals as set out in Crowley books. It is worrying indeed, that celebrities engaged in this sinister and creepy religion could lure and encourage young, impressionable, fans into finding out more about Crowley’s teachings.

New Age Followers still waiting for aliens to bean them up 15 years after Heaven’s Gate cult suicide left 39 dead.

New Religious Movements

Mass suicide or assisted suicide or pre meditated murder?

‘Do’ a man who believed he was a descendant of Jesus Christ. Was he just a delusional brainwashing murderer who helped lead a group of people to their deaths? And of course he was not alone, another crazed brainwashing individual; Marshall Applewhite controlled all that was to be, he even managed to convince other members to be castrated! “He controlled nearly every aspect of his follower’s lives. What about the self-mutilation? He and six other male members of the group even went as far as to travel to Mexico, where they volunteered to be castrated to reduce distraction”.  Why was this? If one is brainwashed surely they can control urges, Catholic Priests do!  Why was this gender specific, why was their no mention of the females in the group?

Many faiths believe in a figure that has never actually physicalized, but this to most followers doesn’t stop their belief.  Yet this cult is one which requires you to take your own life to ‘join the club’ so to speak. Well with all due respect, who in the right mind would want to join? Obviously, those who are not in the right frame of mind, easy manipulated and vulnerable.  What about proof, where is the scientific proof that Aliens or UFO’s exist? A silly spot trailing the comet seemed to be the focus.

With respect to the deceased, the article doesn’t lead me to the conclusion that this was mass suicide.  The 39 had all taken a Mixture of Phenobarbital poison with alcohol, put plastic bags over their heads and that was the end.  Surely before you could put a bag on your head you would be incoherent and have no co-ordination, and then go unconscious.  Research will prove that drinking vodka with phenobarbital would cause breathing difficulties, convulsions, hallucinations and coma.  In my mind  bags could not have been placed over their heads before death, common sense prevails to understand that if one tries to suffocate themselves the reaction is to stop and survive, the brain takes over, fight or flea syndrome. This undeniably to me means that you couldn’t put a bag over your head and try to stop breathing when still conscious, so therefore after the elixir, suffocation must have been assisted.  If they were assisted when unconscious, the decision to change their mind was taken way, thus becoming murder. This article leaves so many unanswered questions.

China arrests 500 followers of religious cult over Mayan apocalypse rumours by Jonathan Kaiman

New Religious Movements

Cults are fast becoming a huge part of the religious scene in our 21st century world, however, they are still deemed to be a scary and uneasy concept. Whether it is the terminology used or the association behind it that triggers such a fearful response, cults still have a shunned perception.See: “China arrests …

Perhaps more than anything, it is what occurs in a cult that makes the cult seem so monstrous. There has been widespread recognition of tragic events unfolding within the realms of a cult; mass suicides, homicide, brainwashing and manipulation. And in the cult we see in this article by Jonathan Kaiman, it is the manipulation and brainwashing that the cult members are spreading amongst the public that goes under such scrutiny that it leads to 500 arrests. The preaching that they do is extremely frowned upon, even though preaching is not condemned in other religions. And this is another factor we understand that separates cults and religions.

The Almighty God group was founded in the 1990s by self-proclaimed grand priest Zhao Weishan in central Henan province. Among the group’s core tenets are the belief that a female Jesus Christ will save adherents from the end of the world and that it must fight a decisive battle against the “Big Red Dragon”, its term for the Chinese Communist party. This cult seems to be interested in rebelling against the government. Its beliefs and motivations are based upon the Chinese culture, which aid in springing a new movement. “They’re saying the Bible is outdated,” said a leader of an unofficial church in Beijing who requested anonymity. “They make sure their interpretations are very adapted to Chinese culture, so it’s easy for Chinese people to understand what they’re preaching”. In a very clever manner, this cult appears to have developed ideas which would appeal to the wider community, putting brainwashing at a height.

Conforming to “normal” cult deceptions, the Almighty God group have received great amounts of misunderstanding and dishonour. But we must ask why. Why does the cult get so much disregard? Why, for example, are Christians not arrested for preaching the word of God? Why are Mormons not arrested for knocking on peoples doors to spread the word of God? In some countries and cultures, they are. But these actions are not deemed to be as offensive. Actions that occur under the title of a mainstream religion that is accepted by many people are not threatening or wrong. But as soon as we see the word “cult”, the actions that members perform immediately become questionable and unusual.

Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, in their book Understanding Cults and New Religions, identify that many Christians feel that their religion is more natural because of its extensive traditions. It is widely accepted and recognised that people often convert to Christianity, but this is only justified because of the traditions that back Christianity. Cults are relatively new, and so they are not fully understood. This is perhaps the reason that actions that derive from cults are neither justified nor acceptable.

Hu Xingdou notes that the state of society is to blame for the rise in cults. He said “In general you’re beginning to see a moral vacuum in Chinese society … corruption is terrible, the wealth gap is terrible, everyone just wants to make more money. All of these bad things create the ideal circumstances for the growth of a cult”. It is also plausible, in terms of us going through the crisis of faith, that people are turning to cults in order to find a purpose in life; cults offer welcoming surroundings, a sense of belonging and a realm the brings back the mystery of life. In accordance with what Hu Xingdou has said, the societies and cultures of the world accidently encourage the rebellious nature of those who intend on finding something that they can put their heart and soul into. Cults appear to be what they find. And as long as this notion continues to exist, cults will exist.

Just as a Jedi Knight; we too, strive for the Connection

New Religious Movements
I would like to permit that part of the human condition, is to long for a connection – in the picture on the left, you see the character ‘Yoda’ from the well-known Star Wars franchise; sit and meditate whilst gazing into the stars – to be at one with the universe. Do we not strive for the same connection?

In 2001, the general census results shocked the nation when it saw the rise of the unexpected; as ‘390,000 recipients stated their religion as Jedi.’[1] The article by Matthew Cresswell in The Guardian, talks of the rise of Jediism across the UK, how it is no longer only ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’[2] as the opening line of each film suggests, but how, for some, it is a reality in this present time, in this present galaxy. As the article declares that ‘the UK does actually have serious Jedi.’[3]

A Jedi Knight you say? Yes, we answer. Upon hearing of the Church of Jediism, one’s first response would perhaps be to laugh; surely there cannot be a religion based on a science-fiction movie franchise, or can there be? Pushing the movie gimmicks and fantastical nature of quirky alien life-forms and robots aside, is there something worthy of a religion, an underlying ethos? Perhaps, the narrative of Star Wars, acts in a very similar way to that of a myth, which is understood as ‘a statement about society and man’s place in it and in the surrounding universe.’[4] The film neither clouds itself in pretences or illusions of being real, though has real effects on the spectator by ‘colour[ing] their thoughts and understandings.’[5]

What colours does it promote? Well, if we unravel the film of its entertainment factor and zone in primarily on the characters of the Jedi Knights – how they understand their place in the universe – then we have the heart of the religion. The Jedi Knights are ambassadors or ‘guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy’[6] striving for fairness and equality of man. The other main aspect of the New Religious Movement is that, this world, like the fictional world, encompasses the illustrious ‘Force’, stated as a ‘mystical entity [which] binds the universe.’[7] The Jedi hold a mastery of meditation and because of this are able to tap into this Force, or energy that is within and surrounds them.

From the outset, these main aspects do not seem as outrageous or flamboyant as they may have originally, as these notable features are core aspects of other religions too; an all-powerful force, striving for peace and meditation. In fact, Cresswell, details how the Jedi Church in New Zealand, states that ‘The Jedi religion is just like the sun, it existed before a popular movie gave it a name.’[8] Thus, presenting the idea that ‘by weaving these unrelated myths into coherent whole, [it] creates a sense of continuity’[9] in man, and for some this is under the umbrella term of Jediism.

The article goes on to display the similarities between Jediism and other more recognised religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and even hints of Hinduism[10]. These fragmentary aspects are drawn into one, as is often the case with New Religions Movements, detecting that ‘all the spiritual traditions and cosmologies are now available to us,’[11] at our very fingertips. However, I feel, the key aspect of Jediism is the salutation and engagement with the force, especially its recognition of light and dark parallels. This, is seemingly representative in most if not all religions, displaying how there is good and evil, opposing spirits and energies in an invisible battle for the soul or will of a person. The Jedi Knights, are the ones who have connected to the goodness within the force, the ones that recognise the light and beauty of the world; though, with this there is never a complete ignorance to the presence of darkness which is constantly within arm’s reach. Simply, Jediism, more than anything, recognises that there is something more powerful at work in the universe, a core essence to every motion, some name it God, others energy, others magic, or even the Force, however; it is ostensibly a universal acknowledgement amongst old and new religious movements alike.

Though, only touching briefly upon the key aspects of Jediism here, can we draw sympathy towards those who actually believe in the Jedi way? For, upon reflection its stars seemingly shine with familiarity, thus, not as ‘far, far away’[12] as we may have initially imagined.




Cresswell, Matthew, ‘Jedi Religion belongs in the star systems of George Lucas’s mind’, in The Guardian, (04.05.12), ( (Last Accessed: 18.11.13)

Hexham, Irving and Karla Poewe, Understanding Cults and New Religions, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)

Lucas, George, (Dir.), Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, (USA: Lucasfilms, 1999)

Sutcliffe, Stephen and Marion Bowman, (eds.), Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000)


[1] Matthew Cresswell, ‘Jedi religion belongs In the star system of George Lucas’s mind.’, in The Guardian, (04.05.12), (

[2] George Lucas (Dir.), Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, (USA: Lucasfilms, 1999)

[3] Cresswell, ‘Jedi religion belongs in the star system of George Lucas’s mind’

[4] John Middleton, Myth and Cosmos, (New York: Natural History Press, 1967), p.x., in Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, Understanding Cults and New Religions, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), p.25.

[5] Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, Understanding Cults and New Religions, (Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987) p.24.

[6] Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I.

[7] Cresswell, ‘Jedi religion belongs in the star systems of George Lucas’s mind’

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hexham, Understanding Cults and New Religions, p.24.

[10] Cresswell ‘Jedi religions belongs in the star systems of George Lucas’s mind’

[11] Stephen Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman, (eds.), Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p.19.

[12] Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I.


A New Awakening whilst bathing in the Summer Solstice

New Religious Movements

TheSummer Solstice – though an event that has ignited man’s mind and heart for centuries – is the annual occasion which draws out the weird and perhaps wonderful expressions of the New Age Man.

So why do people see this occurrence as one to celebrate and also why do people feel the need to experience this transcendent happening at the foot of a lump of stones?

The article in The Guardian, simply reports on the most recent summer solstice of 2013, with its visitors in their plenty, reaching over a staggering ‘20,000 revellers.’[1] I would like to permit that the Summer Solstice is the most prominently recognised of the four solar festivals and that Stonehenge has become the spiritual hotspot in which one is to experience the rising of the New Sun.

This event, summons the Pagans, New Age, Wiccans, fanciful and searchers of contemporary society out of their day to day lives and practises, and into their spectacular array of outfits and pseudonyms. But more importantly, the emphasis is seemingly to gather together in unity, to witness the common denominator and leader of their New Religions ‘ascend’[2], the Sun. Though, I am not writing specifically on one Movement, I am tying these ‘hugely varied networks’[3] in with a common factor, that of the observance of the power or supremacy of the Sun. It is this festival, as well as three others, ‘which mark the winter and summer solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes,’[4] all detailing the position of the Sun in relation to the Earth and to us. 

The article details how, spectators awaited eagerly to ‘greet the sunrise’[5], though, with England’s usual ‘mist and mizzle’[6], to the eyes of the mortal ‘the sun ascended, invisibly’[7]. Still, a young Pagan is reported to say, that this in some way made the message, all the more ‘beautiful’[8]. As it highlights the magnificence of nature and how it cannot be predicted or controlled; we instead look to it for answers from within, invisibly.

Man has always looked to the Sun with awe, especially in early Paganism and pre-Christianity, however, also in Christianity it is recognised that the Sun is most powerful of all creation, or in other words, Light is the most powerful of all creation. Dante expresses, ‘There is, no, sensible thing in all the world more worthy to be an image of God than the sun, which with its sensible light illumines first itself, and then all celestial and elementary bodies.’[9] Therefore, for Pagans, the celebration of the Sun, could be likened to a celebration of Life and tapping into a new awakening.

To await the Sun on the day of its longest reign, is quite a powerful notion and it is reported that ‘as the solstice sun rises on its days of greatest power, it draws up with it the power of herbs, standing stones and crystals.’[10] Here, shining a light on the location in which the Solstice is most notably sought in England; Stonehenge. The sun, ignites the illustrious stones set in the shape of a circle, and taps into their mystical properties[11] making the experience all the more spiritual.

This is a festivity of the longest day of light, but it is also, for some, understood as an observance that darkness is on its way. This is more suitably marked on the Autumn equinox, which was celebrated only a matter of days ago. To most this occasion is known as Halloween, but in the Pagan-speaking world this is recognised as ‘Samhain’, the main night of expression. The Winter Solstice is too celebrated within the circled portal of the ancient stones; which marks the longest day of darkness, however, it does not attract as many as the warm summer festivity does. This raises the question of division within New Religious Movements and also calls for the question of whether a celebration of light in the New Age mind-set can ever be devoid of a celebration of the darkness still to come and with that, the acceptance and awareness of finitude.

[1] Steven Morris, ‘Summer Solstice: Thousands Descend on Stonehenge to Greet Longest Day’, in The Guardian, (21.06.13), (

[2] Morris, ‘Summer Solstice’

[3] Joanne Pearson, (ed.), Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and The New Age, (Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2002), p.3.

[4] Pearson, Belief Beyond Boundaries, p.4.

[5] Morris, ‘Summer Solstice’

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] James A. Notopoulos, ‘The Symbolism of the Sun and Light in the Republic of Plato. II’, in Classical Philosophy, Vol.39, Iss.4, (October 1944), pp.223-240:223.

[10] Anne Franklin, Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice: Volume Seven of Holiday Series, (Place: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2002), p.1.

[11] There are numerous theories and myths surrounding the ancient site in which I do not have space or time to discuss in this blog.

The Jesus of Siberia

New Religious Movements

 The British newspaper The Guardian, 24th May 2002 published an article reporting on ‘Jesus of Siberia’, previously known as Sergei Torop, a former factory worker and traffic cop in Minusinsk, Southern Russia, up until 1989. At this time he announced that he was the son of God. He is known by his followers, as the Messiah of Siberia, Vissarion Christ – the Teacher. Most of his disciples are educated professionals from cities in European Russia. They are convinced that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, come back to save the world.’ He is quoted as saying, ‘Yes, I am Jesus Christ… Everything that God wants to say, he says through me.’ The article states how his critics, in the established churches, accuse him of brainwashing and embezzling his followers, described as deluded ‘new age drop outs’ and devotees of ‘a destructive, totalitarian sect’.

The remote religious commune, the ‘Vissarionites’, is described as a cluster of around 30 rural settlements in southern Siberia, that number around 4,000. It is governed by arcane rituals, laws, symbols, prayers, hymns, and a new calendar. The believers of the Church of the Last Testament date this ‘new era’ from Vissarion’s birth in 1961. The strict code of conduct enforced is outlined as follows: vices are not permitted, veganism is compulsory, exceptions are made for infants and lactating mothers only who are allowed sour milk products. Monetary exchange is banned within the commune and is only reluctantly allowed with the outside world. The Huffington Post reports that The Church of the Last Testament is very definite in its archaic views on the role of women in society. It is reported by Andres Jauregui, that the community ‘indoctrinates boys and girls with the belief that there is separate work for separate sexes’, that men are to lead and that empowering women to be leaders causes ‘disharmony’. If a woman rejects this rule, ‘the harmony will punish her with a woman disease.’ The Vissarionites, are described as having assimilated many elements of Orthodox ritual whilst their belief system also encompasses an ‘eclectic, some say incoherent mish-mash of Buddhist, Taoist and green values.’ The group also believes in aliens and profess encounters with UFO’s, or as Vissarion calls them, ‘the outer space mind.’

Andres Jauregui writing in the Huffington Post, 17.7.2013 suggests that Vassarion’s sermons, delivered first in 1991, may have appealed to Russians who had been spiritually starved due to years of religious repression by the atheist Communist state. This is backed up by the article in the Guardian that reports that the post-Soviet decade saw a boom in evangelism and new age cults.

Vissarion ‘s appearance is obviously fashioned on Russian Orthodox icon images of Christ. His followers are encouraged to decorate their homes, temples and workplaces with his image; this surely feeds on and perpetuates a cult of personality and my belief is that, along with living in such a remote, isolated environment, dependence upon him is created. The thinking of the Church of the Last Testament is vague in that Vissarion states, ‘The outer space mind does not have a soul,’ and that although ‘the outer space mind’ has a role in a cataclysmic event, it may not be tied to the end times.  He states also, that technological progress for ‘the outer space mind is a natural form of development.’ So inferring, I believe, that any technological development is undesirable; isolating the people still further from any outside influences and ensuring God is only speaking through him! From PLHU

‘I was a Moonie cult leader’

New Religious Movements

MLHU writes: Steven Hassan spent two-and-a-half years being ‘brainwashed’ by the Rev Sun Myung Moon’s controversial Unification Church. This is his story: Stephen Hassan the “Sheep” who considered himself ‘an independent thinker’, who ironically became a leader! From the British newspaper The Guardian.

For someone who actually considered himself to be strong willed, who from research was supposedly from a good family network, it is somewhat confusing as to how easily someone could persuade him into seeing his family as Satan and being told to give up his life and money.

Does this go to show how vulnerable he was or was he just weak minded?  Perhaps like animals in the Serengeti we humans too seek out the weaker more vulnerable prey, stalk for a while, test the water, and then pounce! In the article we read of three women and Hassan as a 19 year old student, was this a coincidence or done on purpose, was he an easy target?

Perhaps even, this young man was just prepared to go along with these women for his own gratification as the three women he met never discussed the need for celibacy (as he says in his article), so sex in my opinion was clearly on his mind!  Was Hassan’s own underlying hidden, perhaps even unconscious, agenda how he can get these women into bed if he goes along with them? Seen in this way the prey becomes the predator in a sense. However, it seems Hassan became too entangled in his own plot and thus a victim to the cause without any gratification.

The interesting question to support my theory would be what if three young men had ‘propositioned’ Hassan into becoming a member of this movement, would he have actually got himself into this two and a half year mess?  The definitive answer in my mind is no, he would not.  This is very clear from the article and what Hassan states about getting a date and his discussion of the women not having mentioned being celibate, and further into his entanglement him finding out that, who you can have sex with is decided by an higher authority.  Is this why he continued to stay so long? Did he ever get to sleep with any of the women in I wonder?

A feminist may say that perhaps if Hassan had not let his emotions influence him then he may have kept his bank account and maintained his close relationship with his family. However, was it this hormonal type of thinking that eventually led this supposed independent thinker eventually become a leader and thus an independent thinker?

Is this cult movement just a money making racket that demands people give up all they have and all they know in return for working 24-7 while paying someone else for the privilege? Or is it purely about deception? Irving Hexham suggests that “cult members use unintelligible jargon, as when they speak plain English, they don’t use our languages in quite the same way we d o.” I suppose the answer to this question lies in further research.

When Organized Religion Becomes a Cult

New Religious Movements

From KLHU: This blog is based on the Huffington Post story “When Organized Religion Becomes a Cult by Eliyahu Federman.

Cults and new religious movements have become a big part of the way we look at religions. They continue to thrive and more cults seem to rise and appear from within the cracks of society. The “exciting” thing about cults that entices and draws people in is that the followers can express and explore their beliefs and opinions; there is an overwhelming sense of freedom that can be communicated from within a cult, and the desire to feel a belonging to a group of people that fully accept is a powerful one.

Bryan Wilson, in his book Religious Sects, states that “cults are movements of religious protest”; they are an attempt to break free from the boundaries and restrictions of culture. They “protest” against mainstream religions and their washed out, out dated views. James Richardson of the University of Nevada defined a cult as “a group that has beliefs and/or practices that are counter to those of the dominant culture”, and this is exactly what we can come to understand.

In the article, Eliyahu Federman recognises that “what distinguishes religion from cults is the ability to question without being shunned and ability to reject dogmatic tenets without being shunned”. This does actually stem from Early Christianity; “Abraham was unafraid to challenge the mores of his time and to question authority. This is the historical underpinning of monotheistic religions”. People turn to cults because of the freedom that follows with it. It’s a fascinating concept that people have to urge to explore.

This notion seems appealing, the idea that you could be part of something so free and accepting. However, this may not be the case. What we often fail to understand is what goes on within the realms of the cult; what makes them seem so scary and sinister, and how much manipulating goes on.

Federman, after talking with a young female member of the Amish community returning from Rumschpringe, understands the Amish community to be controlling. “[she] almost unanimously expressed that they returned to Amish life because they had no other choice. It was either the modern unknown world, or their family. If they chose not to return, their family would disown them. Leaving their loved ones behind was not seen as an option. Sadly, that, in my opinion, is the definition of a cult”. He also sees where the threat and danger lies: “forcing people to conform by using the subtle threat of social alienation is a form of coercion”. A cult can be seen to hold its followers tight, and grasps them into a whirlwind of dogmas that they simply cannot escape. It is often conceived that cult members are brainwashed in to conforming to certain aspects that they therefore find impossible to challenge.

Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, in their book, Understand New Age Religions and Cults talk about brainwashing, because this is often a cause for concern. People get swept up in the excitement of the religious nature and fall under the spell of their leaders. Seeking the mystery of life in an age of faithful crisis, a cult could be very appealing. However, it is apparent, according to Hexham, Poewe and the likes of William Sargant that brainwashing is usually not the case in these religious movements because people usually join on their own free will. This may be the case, but they fail to recognise the harsh realities that unfold when a person has initially fallen into the trap of a new religious movement. It is apparently easy to join cults, but it is the leaving that is the hard part. As we saw with the Amish girl, Federman goes on to say that “any religious community can become a cult. It’s not about how faith is expressed in a community but more importantly how people are treated if they want to leave and disbelieve”. Religions become cults when people are unable to disobey the order and leave. This is the sinister danger that we understand and fear.

The difference between a cult and a religion are subtle, but powerful. People fall victim to manipulation and threat, often leading to devastating consequences. Mass homicides/suicides occur because people find themselves caught in something from which they cannot escape. This is the case with many cults such as Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown. “In order to prevent crossing the line from religion to cult, communities need to purge themselves of dogma, intolerance and ostracizing those with different beliefs, so their adherents have true choice on how to live their lives”. A religion can easily branch off into a cult if the influence is strong enough, and this is what the future may be facing.