Belonging to a group can feel nice. You laugh, sing, and then Charles Manson walks in the room. Okay, that’s never going to happen, but you don’t need Charlie walking by to know something is wrong.
Here are 15 people brave enough to share their experiences with cults.
1. Nothing Is Free
My dad joined a cult when he was 17 in California, and left about a year later. He joined because free drugs and free place to live. He left because the cult started to tell people not to contact their families and only the higher level members got drugs anymore.
He says after he left the main leader went to jail for sex crimes of some sort and the whole cult folded.
2. Total Control
Joined a cult back in 2012. I met them through one of their cafs in Colorado. The idea of communal living and dedication to a cause was very appealing to someone who hadn’t had a job in a while and was going to lose their home soon. The mask of super friendliness and hospitality was covering up racism, child abuse, and total domination if people’s lives. I mean TOTAL. From what time you woke up, to how you dress. I spent three years of my life there, working 12 to 16 hour days six days a week. I was being groomed to get married and become a leader in “the community” when I left with just some clothes.
The controlling nature of the place made it feel like a prison camp and I couldn’t take it anymore. A year and a half later and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
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3. End Of The World
I grew up in the Family Radio cult. What they are mostly remembered for is their 2011 prediction of the end of the world and rapture. Spoiler: The world didn’t end.
I was a young adult and able to leave in the chaotic aftermath without too much of a fight from my parents. I’m doing….okay. Many people are not. Some are still making more predictions.
I do want to say that 90% of the people in the group were kind people who really didn’t want the world to end, but were just so brainwashed that they really believed it. Some of the nicest, most giving people just got sucked in, chewed up, and swallowed in the abysses that was.
4. Full House
My ex started becoming friends with a few people in a cult. They lived a house with say 5-7 rooms but then filled it up with 20 people, filling each room with bunk beds.
At first I thought that it was nice to make such cheap rent, but they always complained how poor they were. Turns out they “donated” an absurd amount of money to the church.
My husband would offhandedly mention that he liked soccer then within the week they would message him to tell him that they were playing. So he’d experiment by slipping something out and sure enough they happened to be doing that exact thing. It was clever way to gain trust in people. I’m imaging if someone wasn’t suspecting, and desperate for friends it would be easy to slip into their ranks.
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5. The Truth Is Out There
My parents joined a cult in west Texas when I was about 8-9 after searching for “the truth” their whole adult lives.
Long story short, it wasn’t that crazy at first. They had me, and by that time it became a doomsday cult. They believed in multiple marriages, and all the girls were married up by old elders leaving nothing for us young dudes. So naturally, we rebelled.
My escape wasn’t as harrowing as some others but my leaving did set up me saving my 15 year old sister (under cover of darkness abducting her from my dads house and transporting had to my mom in LA) from marrying an elder who already had 4 wives and about 10 kids who was later arrested for molesting his step daughter.
It’s been a wild ride guys…
6. Together Forever
My parents grew up in a religious cult and as teenagers, they fell in love but when they asked permission from the church elders to court each other and get married, they were denied. My mum was ex-communicated suddenly in her early 20’s (she didn’t know why until finding out by chance a long time later) – so they didn’t see each other again for 20 years while one remained on the inside, and the other in the ‘real world’.
Mum tried writing to him a couple times, but dad was brainwashed and told her that she was evil and should repent for her ‘sins’…. things that he had been told about her by the cult etc. When dad was ex-communicated himself 20 years later, my mum heard about it through his brother who had left some years earlier. It took them another year to get in contact, they were in different continents, didn’t know where each other were and dad was trying desperately to get used to life in the outside world, having never lived in normal society before and now in his mid 40’s. Dad told us later that he wanted to find mum, but was afraid because he believed she was going to hell.
One day he finally had a letter from mum, he wrote back immediately and basically assumed that they were getting married – packed his bags and moved across the world to find her. Mum answered the door to dad in the early 80’s, having not seen him in 20 years, they were engaged that night and married within 6 weeks. They are still happily together.
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I ran away from home at 16 and joined this weird spiritualistic cult. They didn’t have any Gods but they believed a lot in spirits and ancestors and stuff. We all lived in this big house owned by the leader guy who’s name was Johnathan, who had a special connection to the spirit world.
They were all super good people, they took me in, gave me food and clothes, one of the guys gave me a job in his company. They had a lot of rituals and stuff we all did, with a huge emphasis on community and common good and honouring the dead. They did require a lot of dedication to the group. I believe 5% of income had to go to the cult. I lived with them for a few years, they got me through high school and without them I never would’ve gone to college, which is the reason I left and where I am now.
8. The Master
My mother is a follower of supreme master Ching Hai since 2004. It was really weird when it first started. She tried to force my dad and the whole family to eat vegan. She wasted tons of money on useless merchandise, like an $800 portrait of the “master.” Aside from that and the condescension toward us non-believers, it doesn’t seem like that bad of a cult.
9. Married To The Church
I was born into a church in Puerto Rico where the pastor had his fingers in everyone’s lives and they saw him as a prophet sent in the end times to usher in the rapture. Think old school hard core Pentecostal but with access to people’s finances as well. Well my parents got tired of that and moved to Oklahoma where they had a sister church that was a bit more liberal (the pastor didn’t ask how much people made). All of these church’s taught that holiness required that women not cut their hair or wear pants or make up. Men couldn’t wear shorts or have facial hair. Smoking and drinking were explicitly not allowed.
At 16 years old, our pastor had a vision to move to Tucson so the entire Oklahoma church up and left for tucson.
Growing up my parents were more liberal than most, and I had a very happy childhood. When I reached 18 I was finally allowed to date. Dating is very strict and they split it into 3 “phases”. Because of the distance the church puts on you and the other person, anyone dating is really making a beeline towards marriage. Most kids are scared of the world ending and ending up in heaven a virgin so as soon as someone is 18, most people in the church marry.
I married at 20, which was pretty old, but my ex wife had barely turned 18. We were both kids and had no clue what we were doing. I was required to marry someone in the church so I had few options as to who I could marry (the local church only has around 100 people so during church conventions where 1-2 thousand people would gather, it was a veritable dating frenzy. I was very sincere in my belief of the church and when I married it was to have kids and to keep the church going. My ex wife however had only started going to the church when she was 13 so she wasn’t as brainwashed as I was and eventually…(continued)
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She left me for another man. I agonized a lot over this, and eventually started seeing a therapist for couples counseling (normally you see the pastor for counseling but since she had left the church she refused to see the pastor so I told her I was willing to go to a regular therapist). She ended up only attending one meeting and I kept going at first hoping to convince her to go, then eventually just using it as regular therapy. The therapist convinced me to follow my passion for Latin dancing (dancing was strictly not allowed in the church unless it was “in the spirit” which meant you basically marched to music). Dancing taught me to treat women as equals and taught me confidence. Before I was never allowed to touch or hug women I wasn’t related too but during dancing I learned that touching is natural and normal.
I eventually left the church at 25 years old, and had my first drink (the church basically teaches you that one drink will get you drunk so imagine my disappointment at my first margarita). I became a flight attendant and married another flight attendant. She has been amazing and has opened my eyes so much.
10. The Voice Of God
My mom was in this cultish organization in her 20s. When my siblings and I were old enough to participate, naturally, we joined. They require you to pay to be there and participate in the mission trips/teaching and then require total submission from women to men and the group leadership and complete submission from the guys to the group leadership. Lots of hierarchy and if you don’t “hear the voice of God,” you’re out of luck.
As a woman, if I disagreed with anything my superiors said, they would ostracize me and do pretty much everything in their power (which was a lot) to make my life hell. They preyed on people who have low self esteem and few friends then they teach you that you only matter if you hear and obey God and then effectively make it so only friends you have are members. Even though I had friends and good self esteem when I joined, I started feeling pretty bad about myself and lost almost all of my friends.
The most cultish part of my experience was…
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Despite all of this, they still enticed me to come back a few times and rejoin activities, committing to greater and greater responsibility each time, which meant worse treatment each time because, for me, having greater responsibility meant asking questions sometimes. Even logistical clarification questions (ie. when are we supposed to be at X event, what’s the address of Y location) infuriated my leader. When I tried to talk to his leaders about this, they tried to gaslight me then ostracize me. On third time back, I promised myself I would never return.
My brother is still involved and it makes family gatherings extra tough. My sister would be involved if her husband’s job would allow him to relocate. I went back once to see my brother get married. I ran into my old crew and leader who discouraged me from starting medical school, noting that it would delay my marriage and childbearing and that the workforce isn’t the woman’s place. It’s a message I’ve been hearing from my mom for years and continue to hear every time we talk. It’s very hard continuing to be a part of a family that’s so deep in this ideology.
11. Escape From Hell
When my mother met and married my first step father I was 4 or 5 years old. He began to introduce me to the cult he belonged to almost immediately. I don’t think that my mother realized he was in one, although he was trying to get her into it slowly. During evenings when my mother went out, or weekends whenever he could get me alone, he would work on teaching me to be a member of the cult he believed in.
Eventually, there were times when he’d get me in the middle of the week from school and take me to a group camp sort of place that other members of his group set up for extended activities. Sometimes they would trade children for the getaway period, like swap us back and forth for cross training. Once in a very great while a kid there would die, but usually those were the kids that were just picked up and not legally parts of their families so they didn’t have to make excuses for them missing. (Continued)
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My mother helped my step father in a lot of what he did, not because she knew what he was doing and involved in, but because she was naturally a hateful person. She refused to let me watch television, listen to radio or music, go to parties or special events. The house was closed to me, I was restricted to my room for most of my life as a child by her, and that helped him because it gave him a lot more access and control over me.
My step dad’s cult was a sexual slavery group. They believed that women were naturally inferior and meant to be slaves. My training was to teach me how to be a slave, how to endure pain, long terms of time in poses holding things, or being “furniture”, and what he called “preparations” for my “womanhood”.
By the time I was around 8 or 9, he was trying to get my mom into softer versions of what he was doing with me with his buddies in his group. He started by trying to get her to do swinging, and wife swapping and stuff but my mom was naturally reserved and hated sex in the first place, which kinda made things worse on me and made him more impatient.
I told a childhood friend some of the stuff he did. She told her mother, who told my mother that I was being molested, and there was a lot of screaming and shouting in the house, and the embarrassing interviews with my mother interrogating me and being really angry at me and I was so scared, because of the threats he’d made but also because she was so furious with me that I minimized what he was doing and kept it to just the “preparing me for womanhood” bits.
She separated from him for three months, but it was too hard for her to make it on just her own income, and she was too proud to ask for help and refused to go on any kind of assistance because she didn’t want to be a “welfare mom” like all the “wetbacks” she hated, so she took me back to him and basically just gave me to him. I tried to tell her that he was starting stuff again and I was told that she was just too tired to hear it right now, so I never tried to get help from her again.
By the time I was between ten and eleven years old, I’d begun to read books about child abuse, molestation, and cults. I couldn’t find anything about the sexual slavery parts of it, but there was enough there already for me to understand that what was being done was wrong, and to fight it. I began to refuse him.
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Every day was a battle of screaming, shouting, throwing things, hitting each other. My mother would punish me for being disrespectful to my step father. In the end, he was trying to rape me in the afternoons and I was stalking the house at night while he slept with a knife in my hands, trying to get the nerve to kill them both in their sleep.
Just as I was ready and prepared to do it, I had stuff packed and everything, he just disappeared. After a week of him being gone, my mother told me that he had been having an affair with another lady, who was only 17 years old but had a two year old daughter already, and that she kicked him out for cheating on her. That’s how I got out of the cult.
However, later on as an adult, I stupidly ended up with another guy who was into the same things. He started out trying to pass it off as just an interest in normal bondage fetishes. But in the end, I found out he was with the same group of people, who are now apparently internationally spread out with private compounds and “vacation places” all over the map. It tore me up when I realized it. I called the police and changed the locks when I found the boxes and boxes of his private photo collection at the camps he went to, with the other men posing with women tied up, cut up, unconscious, and beaten.
So that was the second time, I escaped from that kind of cult. It has now been 13 years since I earned that freedom.
I got in as it was just forming. Back then it was just a place for like-minded people to discuss world affairs. I was an arrogant teenager who was more smart than wise so I liked that part. Then it started to get progressively more isolated, the idea started to grow that people who didn’t think the same things were by definition wrong and we shouldn’t talk to them. Initially, I protested, but that was quickly smothered. (continued)
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Suddenly, they wanted everyone to change themselves, to ‘develop’ themselves and get rid of ‘irrational’ thought/behaviour patterns. I bought into this at first, thinking I was growing to be a better person, a more positive influence on the world (again, isolation and a good dose of the young arrogance of a clever-but-not-intelligent person, I like to think I’ve grown a bit in that respect since the end of my cult life). Then I started to feel like I was losing myself, losing the idea of who I was. This was of course written off as being an irrational thought I needed to get rid of. I started to resist the constant changing more and more. They tried quarantining me.
That was probably the darkest period I’ve ever lived through. And I’m glad that I did live through it. At some point, the only reason I wanted to stay alive was because I couldn’t bring that heartbreak upon my mother, who I was hardly allowed to see (her being a non-believer, of course), because I knew she wouldn’t understand, would never get closure, and I just couldn’t do that to her. I had BAD panic attacks. I had recurring nightmares where I was trying to run away from someone but it felt like I was running through thick syrup. I held myself catatonic whenever my then boyfriend was trying to make me change again. I didn’t know what to do, because I’d internalised their moral standards; leaving their group seemed like the worst thing in the world to me, but I also couldn’t keep doing what they told me to do. I was so stuck and lost.
Eventually, they figured out I wasn’t going to be a productive group member anymore so they kicked me out. Came home from my shitty customers service student job one day, my boyfriend sat me down and broke up with me. I cried my eyes out. He left to go stay with friends. Next morning, I woke up, and I felt so free.
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14. Grandma’s House
According to my mom, back in the 70s, when her and her siblings were in their early teens, my grandfather left my grandmother, also money was really tight. I guess this sent my grandmother into a depression/anxiety related craze, making her super vulnerable to anything to cling onto to get some sort of structure back in her life… Just by chance, right around this time a cult came knocking on the front door. My grandmother was instantly hooked. They offered everything she was missing in life, structure, “love”, “meaning”, etc… My mom doesn’t like to talk about those few years after (I think she was 14 or 15 when this all went down). The cult actually encouraged that you beat your children… my mom has visible scars from times that her mother (my grandmother) broke wooden spoons, plastic hair brushes, etc. on her bare skin. Holidays and birthdays were banned. College was where Satan lived (especially as a woman you were required to stay as uneducated and submissive as possible). My mom told me one heart breaking story about how she was asked to prom and saved her own money to buy a very modest, non-flashy dress. She was told by my grandmother that she was not allowed to go.
Anyway, my mom and her siblings all left the house as soon as they turned 18, ditched the religion, and moved states away. Nether my mom nor any of her 3 siblings ever joined another religion. My mom and her siblings are all surprisingly well rounded and did well for themselves considering their insanely abusive childhood. My grandmother is in her late 80’s or early 90’s now and is still in the cult, and not allowed to have contact with us. As a result of her upbringing, my mom always told me as a kid “if you want to join a religion later in life, that’s fine, just never let me know because then I will have to jump in front of oncoming traffic.”
15. Dream Weaver
My mom was in a cult when I was younger.
I remember a few times my mom brought me and my brother and sister to the compound, and we would help gather cherries to make into jam. I remember thinking it was kind of strange that we were doing it, and stranger that my mom was talking about how she had to sell the jam. I met the cult leader, and something about him was off putting to me.
During this time my mom got into dream journals. My mom bought me and my siblings notebooks which we were supposed to keep by our bed and as soon as we woke up, we were supposed to write down everything we could remember about our dreams, which my mom would try to interpret or she would bring it to the cult leader to be interpreted.
Eventually my mom stopped going to the cult. I don’t know how or why. She just stopped. Her interest in new age stuff continued though. I think my step dad probably convinced her finally that she was in a cult, which is good because she clearly was.
Again knowing how cults operate, I wouldn’t be shocked if me and or my siblings were molested during that time by the cult, it would explain why so many memories of it were blocked.