Cult members are just idiots drawn to bizarre leaders. Idiots. Are they, though? 

We are quick to judge those who undergo brainwash and mind control. The polygamists, scientology, jehovas witnesses, the Manson family and so many more. But what is it really, that makes people join a cult?

After listening to Max Cutlers “Cults”, I became curious about Keith Raniere and found the series “The Vow” on amazon. While watching it, I just noticed how I myself was surrounded by cultists of a motivational speaker in Germany who adapted just the same methods as Keith Raniere did within his cult. Its macabre, bizarre and instinctively, many people do actually realize when something does not seem right. However, those who are at their most vulnerable may likely ignore their intuition by listening to the indoctrination of someone else. In fatal cases, of those with very ill intent.

Money, power and total submission are the driver for cult leaders, psychopaths and some humans in general. 

This article aims to bring awareness to sinister motives of some self-proclaimed Gurus, enlightened beings or leaders.

What is a Cult?

A cult is a group of people, or a movement, that shares their commitment to a charismatic leader or ideology. And here is the thing; Have not we all been in a situation at some point in our lives, where we were at our must susceptible, desperately needing advice from someone to help us find a way out of a that feeling of dissatisfaction? The search for meaning is something many of us stumble across at some point in our lives. I have found myself in this search after the first lockdown in Germany. It was not so much about the lockdown per se. It was not about the solitude experienced in that time – I very much enjoy being by myself. It was about the social unrest and the division going in the world around me. Suddenly people were either “Pro-Vaxx” or “Anti-Vaxx”, accusing one another of being brainwashed fools. All the noise, the threats from one group of people to the other. The bombardment on social media made me crave the search for meaning.

What followed were hourlong meditations, shamanic ceremonies, hypnosis, love and light readings, and daily journaling practices. I found myself fasting, experimenting with different healing methods, buying healing stones, tarot cards, pendulums. 

It has been a time where I tried to shake off the unrest. Searched for meaning. It has also been the time where I found a shaman to lead me to a more wholesome me. 

I have been lucky, I can now say, for the shamans that I have found were wishing well upon me. They did not introduce themselves as the enlightened, or as teachers. They have been showing me that empowerment is within me. But what would have been if I found someone else? Someone who claimed to know what’s right for me? Would I have listened? I could not say.

My experience taught me to feel compassionate. We could all fall trap to an ideology while searching for something bigger in life. Manson preyed upon smart college drop-outs, Raniere preyed on people seeking spiritual growth. Other cult leaders, such as Jeffrey Warren, Jim Jones and David Koresh took advantage of the fear in people and created doomsday cults that prepared for their day of salvation. People obviously do not sign up for something they know is going to be sinister. They follow those supposedly standing for a good cause. 

Seriously now, you MUST watch The Vow to understand what draws people into a cult, and why judging those in it is not so easy after all.

How do leaders submit their followers?

After watching footage of the NXIVM meetings I was startled. I had seen a cult first hand – with the same methods and similar persuasion techniques. I have been invited to visit a two day seminar in Germany with a famous motivational speaker. The hosts of that event, meaning the company of the speaker, called me and offered me to visit this seminar for free, which I happily accepted. The initial price was over 500 Euros, then dropped to 69 Euros and I think they really wanted to get the arena full and could not find enough people for the initial price, so they called around to invite people for free.

The seminar was packed! When the speaker entered the stage, people were applauding and whistling – and the speaker definitely enjoyed the attention. He was full of energy and it reminds me a little of the Tony Robbins seminars with the high energy vibes. Good information, great motivation has been given and induced, and I am happy I visited the event. 

What put me off was the extremely pushy marketing strategies, an attempt to make people feel that they MUST visit those seminars in order to be happy or successful. I have nothing against persuasive marketing strategies per se, obviously people want to get the message out. However, this one was way over the edge. It was exactly as seen in the Series. 

And the marketing in between the seminar became more and more, first it was a 2 day seminar to sign up for (I think it was about 2000 Euros), then on the second day it was a 5 day seminar for, if I remember correctly, almost 10k? We are speaking about motivational seminars, leadership skill seminars, coaching seminars. I support the idea of pushing ourselves and receiving help from others, however, motivation is something so intrinsically, that it must come from within rather from a 10k seminar. The coaching seminars, coach the coach seminars and all the other mentioned stuff also had a vibe of the NXIVM cult, where people earn their little sashes in order to step up in the hierarchy. It was all too pushy. But I am glad I went to see it, and stayed up until (almost) the end. Day number 1 was packed, by the end of day number 1, it was already just half as full, and towards the mid of day number 2, I saw people leaving during the pushy marketing attempts with only the “Cultists” staying. I will never forget the guy who sat next to me on day number 2. He applauded for every sentence coming out of the mouth of the motivational guru and I could not resist to ask if he signed up for his seminars which he did, of course. 

Best books on Mind control

The topic is so important that I want to share with you some of the best books I have yet read on brainwash:

The Rape of the Mind – one of the supposedly best books on that topic. Well written and even a classic.

Control your own mind with the Silva method – that is currently super hyped on Mindvalley and other platforms. Check it out and grow beyond limits.

Brainwash – the Secret History of Mind Control – Chilling!

Methods cult leader use for mind control

My experience included tons of methods used by cult leaders;

  • Persuasion tactics that go way beyond marketing (sentences like; If you do not do it, you will not be successful are used in an attempt to fear people of being losers. It targets the vulnerable, those who are feeling a certain emptiness within and may believe it to be true).
  • Speaking to peoples emotions; This goes hand in hand with the above mentioned tactics. Vulnerable people wish for a better life, and this speaker used the wished and hopes of the audience to provide the “solution”; His seminars being the only solution for a meaningful future. I have no doubt that many of those who signed up for the seminars will also join his other seminars. Again, there is nothing wrong with joining seminars, the difference is just that the marketing was based on fear and the speaker claimed that people could not reach their goals without this seminar. It was off.
  • Peer Pressure: In cults, this is what really keeps members in check. Humans are social animals and want to be accepted by their tribe. Group Thinking also is what keeps cult members in a cult. Because the norms are being defined by what the group is doing, accepting and perceiving as normal. It exists everywhere in society and what is perfectly normal in one culture (for example burping after eating, in parts of China, or leaving food on the platter, in Japan) is considered rude in other cultures (for example doing the mentioned examples in Western countries). In the Polygamist cult, for example, it was perfectly normal for women to share their husband, so feelings such as jealousy were despised and suppressed. Although they did exist, listen to Rachel Jeffs who shares her experience in the Polygamist Cult and how she broke free. Also; Remember Jonestown in 1978? Peer pressure led to a mass suicide insinuated by cult leader Jim Jones. This is how pressuring peer pressure is. And when you are sitting in a seminar full of people, you may think something is wrong with you for not signing up to a seminar those around you are raving about.
  • Establishing oneself as having the answer to all the problems; Yes, that definitely happened. “If you do not sign up for my seminar, you will not be successful. I have the answer”. 

Here is the thing: There are so many resources out on motivation, leadership and purpose, that one can either choose to give themselves a little boost with a weekend seminar, or they can choose to learn from one of the other sources (books, online courses, podcasts and all alike. There is soooo unbelievably much available nowadays). You need to do the action steps, a seminar is not going to do it for you. A coach is not going to do it for you. You have it all within and can tap into your motivation, spiritual awareness, productivity and success mastery at any point. 

If you want to spend money on a seminar, great! If you prefer to go to either another seminar, or practice with your friends or by yourself, great! You do not NEED to go a certain route. You have all that is necessary within, do not let yourself tell otherwise. 

These cults are still active today.

How can you protect yourself from mind control?

Many people have a feeling for when something is not right, which is why cult leaders like to separate the skeptics from their followers. It is extremely powerful to radicalize people even further. Do not let it happen to yourself. Be a skeptic yourself. Allow yourself to listen to those you may disagree with and make your own informed judgment.

One of the most important things is probably also to not fall into the trap of being pushed into something. Allow your rational mind to make decisions. 

It is so important that we remember that people prey upon the good in us and use methods to exploit the good heartedness. Goodness comes at the price for the responsibility of a heightened awareness. I’d say it is a fair price to pay.

Resources – for personal development

There is so much available for motivation and spiritual purpose that can be looked into and practiced before (or additionally) paying for someone who claims to have THE solution. 

I want to emphasize one more time, that seminars or private sessions can give an extra boost, but they are not the only solution. Empowerment is within you – never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Podcasts – Download Outcast, Spotify or any other provider and search for motivational content. You will find an abundance. For example, Mel Robbins gives tons of great advice. Listen to her podcast or get a hold of her books

Books – I love physical books but I am an even bigger fan of electrical books by now. They are just so practical. The best Apps I use that give me access to hundreds of thousands books are Perlego and Scribd.

If you want to give Perlego a try, you will get 3 months free when you enter Laila Regalado as your referral. I am not getting paid for this, but I shared my referral link because I swear on these apps. They make (academic) life way more convenient and just offer a whole library at ones fingertips. I love, love, love them and if you are bookworm like me, I am convinced you will love them too. Enjoy your 3 months trial and I hope you will be convinced by these apps just as much as I am.

On Scribd I curated a list of some of the personal development books I really enjoyed reading. Check it out here.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is a bestseller, for good reason. You may like to take plenty of notes.

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