How to lead a cult
July 5, 2005 12:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to start a cult, and would appreciate any tips and tricks that Mefites can share with me. Was your cult successful? What did or didn't make it so?

What makes a good cult leader? Can a cult succeed without mind control? How much attention should I pay to the legal / business side as opposed to the HR / recruitment side?
posted by Meatbomb to Religion & Philosophy (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I hear you're supposed to be as charismatic as possible; I'm sure there are tricks you can teach yourself. Cutting your culties off from outside information/contact is also helpful.
posted by trevyn at 12:16 AM on July 5, 2005

Here you go. And here's a helpful book, and here's another. I suggest you use these methods to initially convert a good CPA, a financial consultant, a realtor, and a couple of corporate attorneys. After that, it should be smooth sailing.
posted by taz at 12:35 AM on July 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I relied on word of mouth and a great concept. I got up to about 6 members, and only 2 or 3 were really devout. So... don't do that.
posted by agropyron at 12:38 AM on July 5, 2005

There should be a few tips in this book about it by this chap. (disclaimer: I haven't actually read the book myself yet, but amazon reviewers seem to like it...)
posted by rjt at 12:43 AM on July 5, 2005

The trick is to make people think that it's their idea to join, not yours.

Do that, and you're set.
posted by Jairus at 12:56 AM on July 5, 2005

You have to promise desperate people that you can deliver what they need.

Usually, what people need is a feeling of belonging and a purpose in life. People can't deal with being unnecessary, accidental. Convince them that they are at the center of existence, part of the core, at the right hand of god. This is the key to all religions.

Also, people have this weird idea that everything has to be fair, that the universe should be just. And they mean that from a very personal point of view -- they think they've been good, their moms and dads have been good, their children have been good, so the universe owes them something. Convince them that you (or your invisible friend) will right all wrongs and reward the good.

That is why a cult leader has to be charismatic: it takes a strong personality to convince people of such things. But if you can pull it off, they will love you and follow you.
posted by pracowity at 1:38 AM on July 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

You're not doing it for me with the whole "I'd appreciate any tips and tricks" angle. The idea is that you're supposed to give me all the answers. Come back once you've read the Danny Wallace book.
posted by skylar at 1:44 AM on July 5, 2005

Well, the thing that turned me onto Scientology, was the idea of getting to squeeze the cans.

Squeeze the cans! Squeeze the cans!
posted by veedubya at 1:45 AM on July 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you all for the book recommendations. I am also wondering, is there anything really wrong with advertising it as a cult, just being straight up front about it? Or will that give the game away too much? The cult is all about sex and drugs and I plan to try to recruit good-looking horny drug fiends, so it isn't really like I need to "trick" them...
posted by Meatbomb at 1:58 AM on July 5, 2005

If you will build it, they will cum?

Nah, I think you're wrong here. The point is they need to be convinced to have lots sex and drugs for a greater spiritual purpose, a purpose only you can show them. That's what makes it a cult; otherwise we just call it "the weekend".
posted by taz at 2:09 AM on July 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Try to stick to Crystal Light or lemonade. People seem to be leery of drinking Kool-Aid these days.
posted by Alylex at 2:34 AM on July 5, 2005

Thou art God.
posted by orthogonality at 4:01 AM on July 5, 2005

I already have a cult that attracts good-looking horny people. My bold plan was to call it a cult, but the center of the cult was my poor, dear, disabled cat. This attracted sympathy in the animal rights area, therefore hot activists.

There is nothing that gets hot vegan activists more riled up than a good PETA video. If they're not vegan, you can try a plethora of "meat is bad" vids on the interweb.

(I swear, I am totally not trying to dis vegans. I'm just sayin'.)
posted by bedhead at 4:10 AM on July 5, 2005

Get Tom Cruise to join it.

On second thought, maybe NOT.
posted by konolia at 4:26 AM on July 5, 2005

You need make sure part of the whole point of the cult is for the members to proselytise at any given opportunity. That's what gave Christianity its legs. You only have to convert 10 people, say, and leave the neophytes to get the rest in.
posted by bonaldi at 4:42 AM on July 5, 2005

are you sure? i thought it was the whole thing with little wafers that stick to the top of your mouth. that's what had me hooked for years.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:56 AM on July 5, 2005

is there anything really wrong with advertising it as a cult, just being straight up front about it?

It strikes me that calling it a "cult" is kind of like a campy 1980's cartoon bad guy calling himself "evil." Maybe like Cobra...I guess I like the idea that there's no BS...just a self-awareness that the bad guys have no intentions of doing anything other than "be evil."

This is not to say that cult = evil, just a bad analogy. The word "cult," to me, has negative connotations. It seems like most "cults" have rose-colored monikkers, like "movements" or "groups" or "societies." It seems like shrouding the word "cult" in something pleasingly community- or ideology-based is an early way of getting people to subscribe.
posted by tpl1212 at 6:35 AM on July 5, 2005

First things first: get a big poncey hat.
posted by Radio7 at 7:51 AM on July 5, 2005

I've been reading "A Place called Waco" which is the account of a guy who survived the Mount Carmel ambush. It details how he ended up there and provides a lengthy character sketch of Koresh (the cult leader). Great book to learn from. Key Point: don't start trading arms to finance your cult.
posted by phrontist at 7:56 AM on July 5, 2005

You can't declare yourself a cult. Nothing touted as a "future cult classic" ever went on to become one.

Some words of wisdom from Living Color:

Cult of Personality

Look into my eyes, what do you see?
Cult of Personality
I know your anger, I know your dreams
I've been everything you want to be
I'm the Cult of Personality
Like Mussolini and Kennedy
I'm the Cult of Personality
Cult of Personality
Cult of Personality

Neon lights, A Nobel Prize
The mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You don't have to follow me
Only you can set me free
I sell the things you need to be
I'm the smiling face on your T.V.
I'm the Cult of Personality
I exploit you still you love me

I tell you one and one makes three
I'm the Cult of Personality
Like Joseph Stalin and Gandhi
I'm the Cult of Personality
Cult of Personality
Cult of Personality

Neon lights a Nobel Prize
A leader speaks, that leader dies
You don't have to follow me
Only you can set you free

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You me power in your God's name
I'm every person you need to be
I'm the Cult of Personality
posted by jrossi4r at 7:56 AM on July 5, 2005

Another book that may be helpful.
posted by kindall at 8:23 AM on July 5, 2005

In no particular order:

1) Center the cult on you. Cult life must revolve around you, even when you're not present. Cult members must feel that their life/happiness/salvation depends on you.

2) Never be proven wrong -- don't make statements that can be refuted, don't make predictions that won't come to pass, and don't base your religion on anything that can be proven. Once you're more established you can break these rules, but when you're starting out you should be careful.

3) Create a holy text of some kind. Keep it simple, but nebulous (this is tricky). People need to feel that the text is reflected everywhere they turn, and that your teachings can apply to every situation.

4) Read Dale Carnegie.

5) Look into hypnosis -- not as an end of itself, but as a technique to apply. If you're subtly hypnotizing everyone you talk with, you'll develop a reputation for being mesmerizing, or holy, or whatever.

6) Practice some form of wealth redistribution, with all donations passing through you. This gives you access to a pool of cash you can use to intervene in the lives of your members, making yourself seem supernaturally generous. For example, if a member has car trouble, consider paying for the repairs (once). Everyone will see how helpful and kind you are, and it won't cost you a dime.

7) Remember the "guru technique" -- make complex statements of philosophy. When someone, trying to understand, says "is it like XYZ?" always answer "Not quite" and give another complex statement. You want your members to think there are depths to you that they cannot match. Develop key phrases that you repeat in every statement.

8) Learn from existing cult leaders by reading some of the articles at Guruphiliac

9) Study the techniques of master con-men. The true con artist doesn't compel anyone to do anything; they create situations in which people (acting of their own free will) do precisely what the con artist wants.

10) As soon as is feasible, develop a hierarchy. The idea is to free you of having to plan everything, and thereby remove yourself from any possibility of mistake. Anything that goes wrong is the fault of someone else -- you are still perfect and unimpeachable. You provide vague directions that others make into reality.
posted by aramaic at 8:57 AM on July 5, 2005

There's a fabulous short film on the Net somewhere with a name like "How to start a cult." I can't find it right now. Maybe someone else here remembers the title -- it's creepy.

Be sure to convince your recruits that the outside world is made up of Satanic conspirators who just don't get it, and will try to
use perverted logic to suppress the truth. That's pretty important. You could call them "suppressive personalities" or "s.p.'s."

Pracowity has it right. Make recruits feel special, that because they've lived such good lives, they've been singled out for greatness and will help make Heaven On Earth come about.
posted by inksyndicate at 8:59 AM on July 5, 2005

Shouldn't you also set a date for the END OF THE WORLD? Of course only your members would survive or be saved or whatever your philosophy will be.
posted by LadyBonita at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2005

Make sure to tell the truth as much as possible. The more lies you tell, the more likely you'll get caught in one, and you need your credibility.

This applies to cult doctrine as well. The media likes to focus on the crazy tin-hat bits of a cult's philosophy — UFOs! Astral projection! Government conspiracies! Matching sneakers! — but you don't want to sound crazy to your followers. You want to sound like the voice of common sense. There needs to be a certain subset of the population who will hear your doctrine and say, "Yes! That's how I've felt all my life!"

On preview: setting a date for the end of the world sounds unwise, or at least unnecessary. You're almost sure to be proven wrong, and killing your followers is bad for business. The apocalyptic cults get all the attention, but a cult with no expiration date can keep feeding you money and power for decades.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2005

Read up on Scientology. Take notes.
posted by the_bone at 4:48 PM on July 5, 2005

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