Cults have an unexplained power. They lure in innocent people from all over the world with promises of spirituality, enlightenment, and fulfillment. However, there are often dark secrets hidden beneath the surface. Let’s take a look at the most bizarre cults.
The Fundamentalist Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints
The Fundamentalist Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a religious cult that branched off of Mormonism. Members of this cult believe in the practice of polygamy. They’ve also faced allegations of child abuse, child labor violations, forced marriages, and illegal underage trafficking.
The People’s Temple/Jonestown Project
The People’s Temple was a religious cult led by Jim Jones, a former communist and Marxist supporter who eventually became a Methodist priest. This cult made headlines and became infamous for an incident that occurred at Jones’ camp in Guyana. Somehow, Jones manipulated over 900 of his devout followers into drinking Kool-Aid that was laced with cyanide poison. To this day, the mass-suicide stands as the largest in history, and even inspired the popular expression “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”
The Twelve Tribes
While the Twelve Tribes cult might seem like a bunch of peace-loving hippies, don’t be fooled. Led by Elbert Spriggs, the Twelve Tribes is notorious for antisemitic teachings, believing that the Jews killed Jesus. In addition, they preach that the end of the world is right around the corner and that it’s best to align with their teachings. The group has also faced accusations of using children to get out of paying taxes as well as varying degrees of abuse towards minors.
The Family, also known as the Santiniketan Park Association, was a cult-like group from Austrailia that existed in the mid-1960s. Anne Hamilton-Byrne founded the group with the help of physicist Raynor Johnson. Hamilton-Byrne claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and spent years stealing, raising, and brainwashing children. Along with various forms of alleged child abuse, it was also reported that Hamilton-Byrne regularly gave the children illicit hallucinogenic substances and even administered psychiatric methods like electroconvulsive therapy.
United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors
In 1967, Dwight York founded the Nuwaubian Nation, a religious cult which mixed and matched teachings from Christianity, African tradition, Egyptian mythology, and UFO theories. York preached to his followers that, in the near future, aliens would put together a group of 144,000 chosen humans and send them off to the planet Orion to fight Satan. Eventually, York was exposed for running a network which promoted child abuse on a large scale. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian man who many saw as a god-like guru and spiritualist. He was smart, cunning, and capable of drawing in wealthy westerners who searched for something more. Eventually, he made his way to Oregon, where he established the commune of Rajneeshpurim, a utopian-like town. After a lengthy legal battle, accusations of a failed assassination plot, and an alleged mass food poisoning attack, Rajneeshpurim shut down and Rajneesh was deported back to India.
Children Of God
In 1968, David Brandt Berg founded The Children of God, a cult which would frequently take to the streets of major cities and attempt to convert and recruit the general public. Over the years, the cult has gone by other names such as The Family of Love, The Family, and The Family International. Eventually, it was revealed that illegal activities were happening behind closed doors. It turns out that the “Children of God” encouraged members to engage in lewd and indecent acts with children.
The Branch Davidians
The Branch Davidians sect was first established in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the cult’s most notorious leader, David Koresh, rose to power. Koresh claimed to be the final prophet. He managed to convince the Branch Davidians that he spoke for God. Koresh frequently used his power to manipulate minors into illegal relations. Eventually, federal authorities got involved, carrying out a 51-day siege of the Mount Carmel Center ranch. When it was over, 76 people had died, including Koresh.
Founded by Frenchman Claude Vorilhon in 1974, Raelism doesn’t seem all that bad on the surface. They believe in democracy, oppose violence, and embrace scientific advancements. In addition, Raelians believe that an extraterrestrial life form called Elohim created humans and that other religions were tricked into thinking these aliens were religious figures like Jesus and Budah. Vorilhon preached that members of the Realism church needed to build an embassy to welcome their Alien gods. They also claimed to have successfully cloned a woman in 2002.
Order Of The Solar Temple
Joseph Di Mambro founded the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984. This cult’s belief system is rather complicated. In short, they believe that the Knights Templar is still around today and that only devoted worshippers will one day reach heaven for salvation. The Order of the Solar Temple has been linked to several mass suicides in Canada and Switzerland. They’re also known for a horrifying incident in 1994, in which an infant believed to be the anti-christ was “sacrificed.”
Cult Of Ophite Cultus Satanas
The cult of Ophite Cultus Satanas, also known as Our Lady of Endor Coven, was an organization that formed in Toledo Ohio back in 1948. Led by Herbert Sloane, a man inspired by the Church of Satan, Our Lady of Endor Coven was a cult that aimed to bring together Satanists from all around to world to practice their unique dark religion together. Members of Our Lady of Endor Coven worshipped a horned God which Sloane claimed he saw as a child.
Marshall Applewhite was the leader and prophet of Heaven’s Gate, a cult out of Rancho Santa Fe, California with a bizarre belief system involving cosmic entities and an upcoming apocalypse. Applewhite was able to convince his followers that the 1997 Hale-Bopp Comet would be accompanied by a UFO that would save them before the world came to an abrupt end. On the night of the comet, 39 Heaven’s Gate members took their own lives by ingesting poison.
The Church Of Bible Understanding AKA The Carpet Cult
In 1971, Stewart Traill founded the Church of Bible Understanding. By preaching his own take on evangelical Christianity, Traill convinced 10,000 members to abandon their loved ones and embrace a communal lifestyle. The Church of Bible Understanding became known as the “Carpet Cult” because just about all of its members were forced to work for the Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning service to raise funds for the church. It turns out that most church members lived in poverty while the cult leaders held 90% of the income.
True Russian Orthodox Church
Pyotr Kuznetsov founded the True Russian Orthodox Church in the early 2000s. Kuznetsov originally intended for his church to be an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church, but things took a dark turn for the worse. In 2007, Kuznetsov convinced his 30 members to descend into a cave and wait for the coming apocalypse in 2008 before leaving. Completely brainwashed, the members threatened self-harm if authorities interfered or tried to evacuate anyone from the cave. Eventually, two members died and the rest decided to leave.
The House Of Yahweh
Following a 7-year-long pilgrimage to Israel, Bill Hawkins changed his name to Yisrael and established the House of Yahweh. By combining end of the world theology, Hebrew mysticism, and bits and pieces of Christianity, Yisrael appealed to lots of folks searching for something new. He unsuccessfully predicted that Y2K would end civilization as we know it and that a nuclear war would kill a majority of the planet by 2001. The House of Yahweh has also become notorious for bigamy, child abuse, and other illegal transgressions.
Out of all the wacky cults on our list, Scientology definitely gets the most attention in the media. With famous followers like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley, it’s easy to mistake this cult for just another Hollywood trend. But the truth is that the Church of Scientology has earned itself a reputation for brainwashing members and forcing them into a state of financial ruin. Several core members of the Scientology organization have been involved in criminal activities such as fraud and wiretapping.
The Russian Cult of Gadget Hackwrench
While most cults are notorious for brainwashing, stealing, and even committing acts of violence, the Russian Cult of Gadget Hackwrench has a slightly different ideology. Members of this cult believe that Gadget Hackwrench, a popular cartoon character from Disney’s Rescue Ranger TV Show, is actually the sister of God and an embodiment of purity on earth. They devote their lives to Gadget and even perform ritual acts which involve lighting torches and dancing around a poster of the cartoon.
Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth
If you think this cult’s name is spelled wrong, think again. Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth was formed in 1981 as a group of people looking to use “magic” and other methods of individualization to free themselves from societal expectations. While they might seem a bit out there, and while the actual functions and belief-system of Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth are somewhat unclear, the cult does not seem to engage in any forms of criminal activity.
Church Of Maradona
This cult might not engage in any illegal or gruesome rituals, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bizarre in its own way. The Church of Maradona was founded in 1998 by fans of Diego Maradona, the retired soccer player from Argentina. Alehandro Veron, one of the church’s founding members, stated the cult’s values by saying, “I have a rational religion, and that’s Catholic Church, and I have a religion passed on my heart, passion, and that’s Diego Maradona.”
The Freedomites came onto the scene in Saskatchewan, Canada during the early 1900s. Their belief system was centered around three core values – communal living, anarchy, and nudity. The Freedomites were never shy when it came to their public demonstrations. They would often strip down to their birthday suits to protest the growing materialistic culture in the ‘2os and ’30s. They even went so far as to burn down and bomb public buildings in acts of rebellion against the government.
The Unification Church
Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church, a movement which has its roots in South Korea. The church’s members, a group that calls themselves “Moonies,” believe that the Earth’s satellite is actually the spirit of God. Over the years, the Moonies have developed a reputation for attracting young members to join and driving them to cut ties with their families. Sun Myung Moon has been prohibited from entering Germany because the government considers him a threat thanks to the influence he has on the youth.
Church Of Euthanasia
The Church of Euthanasia had some pretty strange beliefs and theories, the most radical being that we needed to preserve the Earth by committing suicide. With their main slogan being, “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself,” members of this cult often take to the streets to protest and spread their bizarre message in favor of human extinction. Led by activist Rev. Chris Korda, the Church of Euthanasia has been around since 1992 and still exists to this day.
In 1976, high school dropout Joyce Green founded the Kashi Ashram cult. She first changed her name to Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and then began convincing her followers that she was a conduit for Jesus Christ and various Hindu deities. On the surface, Ma Jaya’s teachings seem to promote a compassionate minimalist community. However, over the years, she was accused of child abuse, extortion, and forced marriages. Although Ma Jaya died in 2003, her movement still lives on to this day.
Superior Universal Alignment
In 1989, the town of Altamira in Northern Brazil became the center of an investigation after several boys went missing. Eventually, a boy named Wanderlei Pinheiro escaped from captivity and pointed authorities in the direction of the Superior Universal Alignment group, a UFO cult led by Valentina de Andrade which believed that sacrificing young boys would allow them to enter a spaceship arriving before the upcoming apocalypse. The cult was found responsible for the deaths of 19 boys.
In the 1980s, a man named Jaime Gomez formed a cult called Buddhafield. Upon first glance, Buddhafield was all about spirituality, enlightenment, and community-style living. Gomez, who later changed his name to Michel, gradually and meticulously manipulated his followers into taking part in acts that they would never have been a part of had they not been brainwashed. In 2006, former members of the cult finally gathered together to discuss the inappropriate and illegal activities that Michel had been promoting for so many years.
Happy Science is a cult from Japan, founded in 1986 by Ryuho Okawa. After becoming heavily involved with a similar group called the God Light Association, Okawa decided to branch out and create his own cult. Followers of Happy Science believe that Okawa is the human incarnation of El Cantare, a God-like being, and a combination of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and other main-stream religious prophets. Happy Science is also known for advocating violence, rejecting historical atrocities, and promoting war with China and North Korea.
The Brethren, also known as “Garbage Eaters” and “Body of Christ” is a cult where members believe that it’s necessary to prepare for the coming apocalypse by ridding themselves of worldly possessions and living as vagrants. They’re known for regularly searching through trash cans for food scraps and rejecting necessary medical treatment. Additionally, the cult members aren’t allowed to laugh or dance until Jesus returns to Earth. They also forbid communication with family or contact with members of the opposite gender.
Congregation For The Light
Powered by nationalist theories about race, doomsday preparations, and a bizarre obsession with owls, members of the Congregation for the Light also believe that cancer is caused by bad karma. The cult maintains a strong hold on its followers by neglecting any member who decides to leave. Even more disturbing, the Congregation for the Light has a reputation for marrying young girls off to older men. With just 200 members, the cult makes their money by profiting off the estates of dead members.
Followers Of Supreme Master Ching Hai
After changing her name from Hue Dang Trinh, Supreme Master Ching Hai became a self-proclaimed expert in Quan Yin meditation. Her followers believe that she can bring forth the light of God. However, from the outsider’s perspective, it seems that she simply takes advantage of a gullible group of over 20,000 followers ready to pay for enlightenment. While Ching Hai may preach environmental preservation, she also built an artificial island on a mangrove protected by the state of Florida.
The Apostles Of Infinite Love
Hailing from the mountains of Quebec, Canada, the Apostles of Infinite Love was founded in 1962 as an offshoot of Catholicism. Led by the excommunicated French priest Michel Collin, followers of this cut believed that Collin received direct messages from the Virgin Mary. After a series of kidnapping, abuse, and extortion accusations, the cult was believed to split up. Collin dies in 2011 following a 34-year-long federal investigation. Surprisingly, after a 1999 raid, all charges were dropped.
Dera Sacha Sauda
Founded in 1948 in India, the Haryana cult Dera Sacha Sauda was led by Mastana Balochistani until he passed away in April 1960. After Shah Satnam Singh took over, serving as the cult’s leader for 30 years, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was granted the title of master. Singh was eventually arrested on charges of murder and assault. Following his arrest, the cult’s followers began rioting and committing acts of violence, resulting in 38 deaths, and over 250 injuries.
Thuggee was an ancient Indian Cult made up of cold-blooded killers. They were actually much more of a gang than a cult. Over the years, members of Thuggee became notorious for worshipping the goddess Kali. They also were known for befriending trusting travelers, murdering them, and stealing all their valuable possessions. This cult is actually where the word “thug” originated. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is believed that members of Thuggee killed over 2 million people.
Led by founder Keith Raniere, NXIVM made headlines in early 2018 after prominent Smallville actress Allison Mack was linked to the organization and arrested on charges of illegal human trafficking. While on the surface, NXIVM appears to be nothing more than a multi-level marketing company based out of Albany New York, the dark truth is that this organization is an evil pyramid scheme which exploits a unique brand of “expensive brainwashing” to cause harm to innocent women and children.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
In the 1980s, Credonia Mwerinde, Joseph Kibweteere, and Bee Tait founded the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a doomsday cult out of Uganda. Everything was going fine until early 2000, when a fire, along with numerous poisonings, caused the deaths of several hundred of the movement’s members. Initially, investigators believed that the deaths were the result of mass suicide. Once they dug deeper, however, they saw that the cult’s leaders were responsible.
The Jawahar Bagh Cult
Between the years of 2014 and 2016, members of the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah branch of the Jawahar Bagh Cult spent their days stockpiling weapons and demanding a complete restructuring of India’s political system. They also formed their own constitution, military, and incarceration system in which torture was a common practice. After several years of violent resistance, and a long battle with local authorities, the cult and its leaders were finally brought down by police in 2016.
Ant Hill Kids
Roch “Moïse” Thériault, a man who would eventually become one of the most notorious criminals in Canada’s history, founded the Ant Hill Kids. Thériault was able to convince as many as 12 adults and 26 children that he was a prophet. The cult leader then married every female member and impregnated as many of them as he could. Over the next several years, Thériault took graphic measures to abuse and punish his devout followers. He was eventually locked up for the murder of Solange Boilard.
Matamoros Human Sacrifice Cult
The Matamoros Human Sacrifice Cult consisted of Mexican cartel members who believed that bizarre and gruesome rituals would protect them from the law. For years, they flew under the radar, carrying out their disgusting practices on unsuspecting victims. Eventually, the remains of a University of Texas student who had disappeared while on vacation were discovered at Rancho Santa Elana. The cult’s leader, Constanzo Costanzo, had his partner take his life before police reached him. Other members of the cult were arrested and convicted of various crimes.
Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult created by Shoko Asahara, began as a non-violent organization for yoga and meditation. However, as soon as the cult was recognized as a religion, everything changed. Asahara was quick to turn his back on his non-violent ways. Among the cult’s reported crimes were forced donations, numerous frauds, as well as murders. By the time authorities got their hands on Asahara, the cult leader had a stockpile of weapons as well as explosives and a tremendous amount of poison gas.
The Manson Family
One of the most notorious cults in US history, we had to include the Manson Family on out list. Led by Charles Manson, who would eventually be convicted on seven counts of first-degree murder, “The Family” believed that a race war was on its way. For some reason, they also believed that the Beatles were in on this, and looked to the band’s verses for guidance. Their lunacy culminated in the tragic and highly-publicized Tate murders.
Church Of God With Signs Following
Appropriately nicknamed the “snake handlers,” the Church of God with Signs Following believe that snakes are a physical representation of demons. They frequently engage in the dangerous practice of hoisting poisonous serpents into the air and allowing them to slither all over their bodies. If something goes wrong, they refuse medical treatment, claiming that God will rid their bodies of poison. There have been several reported incidents of snake handler deaths in the Church of God with Signs Following.