10 famous cults in the world (2023)

10 famous cults in the world (1)

A cult is almost always perceived as malevolent in nature; however, this need not always be the case. This SpiritualRay article brings you a list of 10 famous cults in the world.

Fast fact
The name cargo cults was given to a number of cults in the Melanesian region. Most of the beliefs and ritual practices of these cults are aimed at gaining material wealth from the commercially developed colonial lands.

The term "cult" often refers to a group of people engaged in activities that seem far removed from those that are socially, politically, and/or religiously accepted. Some people also think that "cult" represents a group of people who come together for a sinister motive and engage in antisocial activities. These are just two of the many interpretations most people tend to make when they think of "cult." For this reason, needless to say, defining the term is quite difficult and mostly a matter of personal opinion. What "cult" means to one may not apply to another. This is probably why the term is often used quite loosely to refer to any group that appears to be working against the tide.

To complicate matters further, sociologists consider the term 'cult' derogatory and prefer to refer to such groups/ideologies as 'new religious movements' simply because the latter are somewhat easier to define than the former. According to theMerriam-Webster dictionary, a New Religious Movement (NRM) isany religion that has emerged in the last few centuries and has distinctive features such as eclecticism and syncretism, a leader claiming extraordinary powers, and a "countercultural" aspect. Because the cults, or NRMs, seem to distract people from established belief systems and practices, they are often viewed as dangerous and malevolent.

World famous cults

People form cults for numerous and varied reasons, the most important being the acquisition of money and power. Here is a list of 10 famous cults around the world.

1. Children of God

One of the meanest cults in the world, theChildren of God (COG), was founded in the city of Huntington Beach, California in the 1960s.

The leader of the sect was a Christian minister namedDavid Berg, who founded the cult because of his anti-establishment ideology.

The cult's first recruits belonged to the hippie culture, who were immediately drawn to Berg's attitude toward the system.

The group is known for their belief in the apocalypse. The cult members moved their headquarters to Arizona when Berg claimed to have had a revelation that an earthquake was about to hit California.

What made the cult particularly notorious was its belief in open sexual relationships. Through the practice of "flirty fishing," they used sex as a means to attract more followers.

They also encouraged sex with children, claiming it was natural and right. However, all of these practices were officially ended by the group when some of its members contracted STDs in the late 1980s.

COG, later named asfamily of loveand now known asThe Family International, led to the formation of the first organized anti-cult group in the United States and Europe in the 1970s and 1980s.

With offices in up to 70 countries, the group is still active after Berg's death in 1994.

2. The Unification Church

1954, a Korean religious leader and business tycoon,Sonne Myung Mondfounded theHoly Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianityor theFamily Association for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as theUnification Churchinto North Korea.

At the age of 16, Moon claims to have had a divine vision telling him to complete Jesus Christ's incomplete mission on earth. Consequently, theMoonies(the followers of the church) consider Moon their messiah.

Most of the Church's beliefs are based on the Bible. Moon also holds the belief that one of Christ's primary roles was to marry and bear "perfect" children, which he apparently could not do because of his crucifixion.

In addition, Moon believed that he was God and expected his followers to treat him as one. In his view, salvation was only possible when a person pledged his absolute obedience to him and married a spouse of his choice.

In the 1970s, Church headquarters moved to New York, where it became a subject of great controversy and sparked anti-cult sensibilities.

The Church has sponsored many organizations and projects since its inception and is thus an important part of the social, economic and political sphere.

Moon breathed his last in 2012, but the Church is still active under the leadership of his wife and two sons.

(Video) Top 10 Cults

3. Scientology

Regarded as one of the wealthiest institutions in the world, Scientology is a new religious movement that preaches that human beings are in fact immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature.

The main beliefs of the Church include some of the most exotic teachings about extraterrestrial civilizations and their relationship to humans. According to her, humans were extraterrestrials in their previous births.

They use the method of spiritual rehabilitation, consciously reliving painful events from past lives so that the mind can be liberated and purified.

It is one of the most controversial cults of the 20th century. Several critics have allegedly claimed that they used techniques such as brainwashing and hypnosis on their members.

The cult has also been accused of using tools such as psychological abuse, character assassination and costly lawsuits against its critics, which the cult apparently denies.

One of the most controversial beliefs of Scientologists is against calling psychiatry a science. They believe it should be abolished as it is abusive and destructive.

Although Scientology has been the center of several controversies and allegations, it is a recognized religion in a number of countries including the United States, Italy, Australia, Spain and Portugal.

4. Manson Family

Karl Manson, the founder of the Manson family, had a rather dark past. At 16, his mother was jailed for armed robbery, after which he turned to crime himself. Since then he spent much of his life behind bars until he was released from West Virginia prison in 1967 and moved to San Francisco.

(Video) 10 Most Disturbing Cults That Are Still Active

In San Francisco he established himself as a guru and managed to attract a dedicated, if not very large, group of followers. This group of young people was called "the family."

Manson did not claim to have a religious basis for his group, unlike most other cults which tend to have solid "religious" beliefs. In fact, he himself claimed to be a dedicated Scientologist with an amateur interest in Satanism.

The main belief of the family was referred to asHeroes Skelterby Manson, and the term – which he believed referred to an apocalyptic struggle between the black and white races.

The family believed that while the blacks would emerge victorious from the battle, they would seek help from the remaining whites to establish proper leadership. It was at this point that Manson planned to step up and take control.

Ambitious for power, Manson asked family members to carry out a series of murders of white people. The plan was to blame the blacks and start a war between the two races. Several people were killed in Los Angeles, and family members obeyed orders and wrote offensive messages on the walls.

Manson and his followers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, effectively ending the cult.

5. Gate of Heaven

Heaven's Gate was one of the UFO cults whose founders claimed they traveled to Earth in a UFO.

Founded in the 1970s byMarshall ApplewhiteAndBonnie Nettles, most of the cult's followers came from Oregon and California, where the founders are said to have made several apocalyptic prophecies.

They believed that after death the human soul is carried to the other dimension in a spaceship.

The group's leaders encouraged their followers to give up all their possessions, break away from family life and their emotions, and abstain from sex.

They should also live under one roof with the other members of the group.

Heaven's Gate made headlines in 1997 when it was convinced by the rumor that a UFO was following the famous Hale Bopp comet; All 39 members committed mass suicide believing that the UFO would carry their souls to heaven.

6. Rajneeshpuram

Rajneeshpuram began as an intentional community in Wasco County, Oregon, led by the so-called spiritual leader of Indian descent,Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, better known asOsho.

The cult encouraged the enjoyment of earthly pleasures, principally sex, and was largely opposed and rejected within India itself. However, Osho's ideology managed to garner a huge following in Europe and the United States.

By 1985, Rajneeshpuram boasted of being one of the largest intentional municipalities with more than 2,500 residents. It also managed to gain city status, complete with a fire department, police force, restaurants, malls, townhouses, an airstrip, public transit system, sewage treatment plant, and a reservoir.

(Video) 10 Killer Cults You Should Know About

One of the most important members of Osho's inner circle,Ma Anand Sheelainitiated the "Share-a-Home" program in 1985, as part of which a large number of homeless people were brought into the city and housed. The hidden motive, however, was to register them as legal voters and influence the Wasco County court elections. However, the attempt failed miserably.

Around the same time, Ma Anand Sheela and the other members did something that made the cult one of the most notorious in the world. They planned and carried out the first-ever bioterrorist attack in the history of the United States.

They poisoned the food served at a leading restaurant in the Wasco County town of Dalles, seriously ill about 750 people. This was done to reduce the overall population of voters.

However, in 1985 Osho was deported for immigration fraud and the other leaders fled Rajneeshpuram to avoid arrest and trial.

Osho breathed its last in 1990, but the movement still has a large following.

7. Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo, now calledAleph, is a Japanese cult founded in 1987 by a man namedSchoko Asahara.

The cult's ideology was largely influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, but is also based in part on Asahara's own beliefs.

Asahara promoted himself as the manifestation of God on earth and thus managed to receive a significant amount of financial support.

The cult itself became very popular worldwide and by 1995 it had up to 50,000 followers, mostly in Russia.

With plenty of funds at their disposal and an enormous following around the world, the cult reportedly tried - albeit unsuccessfully - to acquire an atomic bomb as they wanted to take over the Japanese government.

When their attempt failed, Asahara and his group carried out the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 and sickening about 6,000.

As a result, Asahara was sentenced to death in 2004, effectively dissolving the group, but it still exists, although the number of followers has shrunk significantly.

8th Order of the Temple of the Sun

TheOrder of the Sun Temple, also known as theInternational Knights Organization of the Solar Tradition, was a doomsday cult and secret society founded in Geneva in 1984Joseph DiMambroAndLuc Jouret.

The members believed in the teachings of Christ and in the ideology of the Knights Templar, a secret organization of the Middle Ages.

This was one of the most important prophecies of the leadersEmmanuelle, the daughter of Joseph Di Mambro, would take the souls of the deceased members to a planet revolving around the star Sirius.

(Video) 10 of History's Most Notorious Cults

They believed the world would end in the mid-1990s; However, when this did not happen, most members left the cult, including Emmanuelle.

The cult made headlines in 1994 when 53 of its members committed mass suicide, believing that the end of the world was near and it was time to move to the new planet.

9. Branch Davidians

In 1955, after a schism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a group of people broke away from the institution and formed a religious group called the Branch Davidians, or simply:The industry.

1959,David Koreshbecame the leader of the group, only to bring the group to a very violent and shadowy end.

Koresh preached numerous controversial things, one of which was his infamous oneNew theory of light.

Through the doctrine, Koresh declared that all women—young girls, underage girls, and married women—are his spiritual wives. He also proclaimed himself the Messiah.

Because of its doctrine, The Branch has faced numerous allegations of child molestation. In addition, Koresh and his followers were also charged with possession of illegal firearms.

1993 became theBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesraided the branch headquarters and it was only after a shootout that lasted 51 days that Koresh and other members were killed.

10. The Russian gadget hackwrench cult

This is by far one of the most bizarre cults to have ever arisen. The members of this cult believe that one of Disney's cartoon characters, Gadget Hackwrench, is a divine being.

Gadget Hackwrench appears in the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers animated series. She is a mouse who is also a pilot, mechanic and inventor. Her Russian fans have formulated a religious cult in her name, giving her divine status.

The cult members believe that she is firm, gorgeous, and so adept with technical knowledge that no one on Earth can match her skills.

The most common practice of the cult is the burning of candles around a large colored poster of Gadget Hackwrench.

The character is also believed to be able to grant wishes, and so the cult members appear to be singing in front of their poster as well.

The world around us is full of strange and unusual cults that tend to use any means to win people over. Some cults, while bizarre, are truly peaceful in nature. It is important that people think rationally so that they cannot be deceived or tricked into entering one of these often uncomfortable institutions.

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What are the 3 types of cults? ›

Troeltsch's aim was to distinguish between three main types of religious behaviour: churchly, sectarian, and mystical.

How many religious cults are there? ›

Up to 10,000 cults still exist today in the United States, according to psychologist Steve Eichel, a recognized international cult expert and president of the International Cultic Studies Association. He outlined several ways to identify cults.

What are the four types of cults? ›

The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism. By Anthony A. Hoekema.

What is the estimated number of cults in the United States today? ›

'' Dr. Singer estimates that there are 2,500 to 3,000 cults in the United States, ''with dozens of small cults too numerous to keep track of. '' The number of cult members nationally is variously estimated at 300,000 to three million.

Are cults legal? ›

It is very rare for any religious group to be rendered illegal in the United States. This is due to the legal protections provided by the First Amendment freedom of religious exercise protection contained in the Constitution.

What type of people join cults? ›

Not only are people without a spiritual identity more likely to get recruited, young adults searching for their own personal identity are more likely to join cults also. “The members of most NRMs are disproportionately young” (Dawson 86).

What are the major cults in Christianity? ›

Such sects may include: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Unification Church, Christian Science, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Some Protestants classify the Catholic Church as a cult.

Do cults count as a religion? ›

Cult is a term that doesn't refer to religion at all, but is applied to a social movement. People have intuitive feelings about how the word cult should be used, even when an organization or movement meets the criteria of a new religion.

What is the largest religious group in the world? ›

Adherents in 2020
Christianity2.382 billion31.11%
Islam1.907 billion24.9%
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist1.193 billion15.58%
Hinduism1.161 billion15.16%
18 more rows

What are the crimes of cults? ›

An investigator may discover crimes committed by cult members including fraud, petty crimes, prostitution, drug-related offenses, and violent crimes.

What tactics do cults use? ›

Cults often use behavior modification on followers, such as thought- stopping techniques and instilling an "us-versus-them" mindset, Hassan said. With thought-stopping techniques, members are taught to stop doubts from entering their consciousness about the cult, often with a key phrase they repeat.

Is Christianity on the decline? ›

“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular',” Pew wrote. “This accelerating trend is reshaping the US religious landscape.”

What is the largest religion in the US today? ›

Christianity. The most popular religion in the U.S. is Christianity, comprising the majority of the population (73.7% of adults in 2016), with the majority of American Christians belonging to a Protestant denomination or a Protestant offshoot (such as Mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses.)

What cults are in Florida? ›

Here's a primer on the craziest cult cases in South Florida:
  • The NXIVM-tied school founded by Alejandro Sanz's wife: ...
  • The Yahweh Ben Yahweh murder cult: ...
  • The weed-smuggling cult: ...
  • The turn-of-the-century "Earth is hollow" cult near Estero: ...
  • The allegedly abusive Kashi Ashram:
7 days ago

How do cults change the brain? ›

To conclude, cultic behaviors and rituals can have devastating effects on the brain and people's lives. Often taking advantage of vulnerable people in search of comfort and identity, they disable critical thinking processes and freeze emotional processing to both gain and maintain control over their members.

What are the consequences of cults? ›

According to those studies, cult members are more likely to experience psychological distress during their membership and often suffer from mental disorders such as dissociation, depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder after their dropout (Coates 2010; Lalich and Tobias 2006).

Do cults affect society? ›

Cults also can have a negative effect on society, as some cults have been shown to evade taxes, violate immigration laws, participate in fraud, and deny the children of cult members an appropriate education.

How many people are in cults in the world? ›

Three research studies indicate there are 3,000-5,000 groups in every area of the United States and throughout the world. Experts estimate that 6 to 10 million people have recently been involved with cults.

Why do cults happen? ›

Cult Psychology. Experts who study cults suggest the human need for comfort prompts people to seek out others or things to soothe their fears and anxieties. Research suggests that those element and others have led hundreds of thousands of people to commit to thousands of cults operating around the world.

How long do cults usually last? ›

Similarities to addictive disorders. Most former cult members stayed in the cult for a long time and found it difficult to leave the group. The average length of membership was almost 9 years.

What are the three largest groups in Christianity? ›

Major branches
  • Catholic (50.1%)
  • Protestant (36.7%)
  • Orthodox (11.9%)

What are different names for cults? ›

synonyms for cult
  • band.
  • church.
  • clan.
  • clique.
  • denomination.
  • faith.
  • religion.
  • sect.

What do Mormons believe? ›

These key elements of the faith include belief in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit; belief in modern prophets and continuing revelation; belief that through Christ's atonement all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of Christ's Gospel; belief in the importance of ...

What is the oldest religion? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Are Mormons Christians? ›

Mormons consider themselves Christians, but many Christians don't recognize Mormonism as an official denomination. Mormons believe in the crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. Followers claim that God sent more prophets after Jesus's death.

Is Amish a religion? ›

The Amish are a Christian group in North America. The term refers primarily to the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church. The church originated in the late 17th century among followers of Jakob Ammann.

Which religion is declining the fastest? ›

Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching.

What religion spread the fastest? ›

Studies in the 21st century suggest that, in terms of percentage and worldwide spread, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.
  • 1.1 Buddhism.
  • 1.2 Chinese traditional religion.
  • 1.3 Christianity.
  • 1.4 Deism.
  • 1.5 Druze.
  • 1.6 Hinduism.
  • 1.7 Islam. 1.7.1 Modern growth. ...
  • 1.8 Judaism.

What are the 7 world religions? ›

  • ISLAM.

What church was shut down by FBI? ›

The FBI just raided a 'cult' church that allegedly targets US service members. At least three locations were raided on June 23, all of them close to Army bases. The House of Prayer Christian Church in Hinesville, GA.

What agency investigates cults? ›

Project Megiddo was a report researched and written by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation under Director Louis Freeh.
Project Megiddo.
AuthorFederal Bureau of Investigation
Media typeDigital
3 more rows

What are the signs of cultism? ›

How Do I Know If I'm In A Cult?
  • Opposing critical thinking.
  • Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving.
  • Dishonoring the family unit.
  • Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)* ...
  • Emphasizing special doctrines outside “scripture”
  • Separation from the Church.
Aug 24, 2020

What are methods of brainwashing? ›

Brainwashing is used to describe an abrupt, induced attitudinal change. Methods used to induce this change include isolation, monopolization, debilitation and exhaustion, drugs, torture, enforcement of routine, and hypnosis.

What are the ranks of cults? ›

  • 1.1 Initiation.
  • 1.2 Disciples.
  • 1.3 Mendicants.
  • 1.4 Priests.
  • 1.5 Lectors.
  • 1.6 Warrior Priests.
  • 1.7 Holy Vocations.
  • 1.8 Arch Lectors.

What religion will overtake Christianity? ›

Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 … The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

Which country is Christianity growing the fastest? ›

Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia are said to have the fastest-growing Christian communities and the majority of the new believers are “upwardly mobile, urban, middle-class Chinese”.

How many Christians are left? ›

About two-thirds of them (65%) identify as Christians, according to 2018 and 2019 Pew Research Center RDD estimates. This means that there are now roughly 167 million Christian adults in the U.S. (with a lower bound of 164 million and an upper bound of 169 million, given the survey's margin of error).

What is the number 1 religion? ›

Christianity. The world's largest religion, Christianity, is practiced by about 2.4 billion people. The country with the highest number of practicing Christians is the United States, with a Christian population of 253 million.

Which religion belongs to Russia? ›

Today Russian Orthodoxy is the country's largest religious denomination, representing more than half of all adherents. Organized religion was repressed by Soviet authorities for most of the 20th century, and the nonreligious still constitute more than one-fourth of the population.

What is the main religion in Russia? ›

The most widespread religion in Russia is Russian Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox faith is very strict. Upon entering a church, women must cover their hair, while men have to take off any headwear.

What is the highest religion in Florida? ›

  • Protestantism (46%)
  • Roman Catholicism (21%)
  • Mormonism (1%)
  • Jehovah's Witnesses (1%)
  • No religion (24%)
  • Judaism (3%)

What was the first religion in Florida? ›

The first European religion to come to Florida was Roman Catholicism.

How are churches different from cults? ›

They define church, sect, and cult as follows: 1 A church is a conventional religious organization. 2 A sect is a deviant religious organization with traditional beliefs and practices. 3 A cult is a deviant religious organization with novel beliefs and practices.

Why are cults so attractive? ›

[7] Psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen states that fears and anxieties will cause an exaggerated longing for comfort. Cults make seductive promises and promote clear messages of community that tap into a teenager's innate and vulnerable desire for acceptance.

How do cults affect children? ›

Brutal corporate punishment of children is common, and normal parental nurturing and bonding is discouraged because it threatens bonding to the cult leader. Other documented physical and psychological abuse in cults include incest, starvation, denial of medical care, and emotional deprivation.

What methods do cults use? ›

Cults often use behavior modification on followers, such as thought- stopping techniques and instilling an "us-versus-them" mindset, Hassan said. With thought-stopping techniques, members are taught to stop doubts from entering their consciousness about the cult, often with a key phrase they repeat.

What is another word for cults? ›

band, church, clan, clique, denomination, faith, religion, sect, ritual, body, creed, faction, following, party, persuasion, school, admiration, ceremony, craze, cultus.

How do cults punish members? ›

Punishments include chores, but also fasting and staying up all night, both ways to make individuals less coherent and able to resist. Many cults also have their own ritual behaviors and ways to speak. These bind members as an in-group and cement outsiders as an out-group.

How is brainwashing done? ›

Brainwashing is used to describe an abrupt, induced attitudinal change. Methods used to induce this change include isolation, monopolization, debilitation and exhaustion, drugs, torture, enforcement of routine, and hypnosis.

What do cults do to society? ›

A CULT is most commonly thought of as a religious or utopian group with a charismatic leader, though not all cult leaders are charismatic. Such groups can do a lot of damage causing anything from the breaking up of families to horrific acts of ritual murder, mass suicide and terrorist acts (Jonestown …

What is another word for no religion? ›

Non-religious people can be called atheists or agnostics, but to describe things, activities, or attitudes that have nothing to do with religion, you can use the word secular.

What are ruler cults? ›

(1,133 words) [German version] The cultic worship of the emperor during his lifetime and after his death, namely as a deity and part of the municipal pantheon, was as such the Roman Imperial version of ruler cult already commonly practised amongst the Hellenistic kings.


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