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SECRET by Caitlin Hill

Secret: How To Tell If You’re In A Cult

We all know someone or know someone who knows someone, who either as a kid (through their parents) or as an adult, got mixed up in a cult.

“They’re smart people,” you say, “I don’t know why they’ve done this.”

The thing is, it’s not about whether they were smart enough to avoid getting involved in cult activity or not, because being involved in a cult, according to a former cult member, is “like an extreme case of domestic violence.”[1] It is a serious issue; people lured by charismatic leaders and locked in to a battle of control. Humans don’t want to be caged, so we should be able to avoid it. The problem is that cults don’t label themselves as cults, and just like a violent partner, the signs of future abuse are usually not evident at the beginning of this new relationship.

So, how can you help yourself or your friends and family from becoming involved in your local cult?

1. “no I don’t want you to know”: Know Thy Names

If you don’t know the name of the cult, how can you avoid becoming involved in the first place? Landmark, Hare Krishnas, Children of God, Moonies, Scientology, Hillsong, Seventh-Day Adventists… all have been accused of cult like behaviour. It might be worth avoiding anything described as a “new religious movement” altogether.

2. “nobody knows everything about (everyone)”: You Think The Leader of The Group is… “Charming”

Beware the charming leader whose authority is above all. If they call all the shots, make you or others you know do things you usually wouldn’t do (but you feel compelled to because you don’t want to let them down or maybe you’re even a little afraid of them), then run away. Jim Jones was described as charming, but then he blackmailed all his followers by making them sign documents saying they abused their own children and made members have sex with each other while their partners watched… oh, and he killed them all, too. There’s that. Charming = trouble.

3. “we’re not close anymore”: They Try To Turn You Against Your Friends/Family

During your time with your chosen cult, you may find that family and friends don’t understand why you have chosen to be a part of it, and the cult, instead of trying to bridge that misunderstanding, burn the bridge and build a wall. They are trying to isolate you from outside help. They will lead you to blame your family and friends for how your life is now, they will make you seem them as “Other”. As a former online cult follower recalls, “He always tries to pick out abuses, reasons to be angry. Whatever problem you have, he'll track it back to your parents."[2]

4. “I warned you”: You Are Not Allowed To Disagree With The Group

Cults are all about collective thinking. If you question decisions, beliefs, practices, abuses in the cult, you will find your thoughts are quickly suppressed. When people in abusive relationships try to criticise or point out bad behaviour in their abuser, they often find their arguments are quickly gaslighted or manipulated into questioning their own intelligence or sanity and their arguments are quickly put down. The same thing occurs in cults where they “view critical thinking as an infectious disease and every effort is made to suppress it. Doubting members are encouraged to isolate themselves from outside influences and focus solely on the doctrine of the cult.”[3]

So, what do you do if you realise you’re in cult? There are organizations available to help you, including Cult Info Brisbane ( but I would recommend calling Beyond Blue first (1300 22 4636).

Dodd: I have no idea the contents of this remarkable potion. What’s in it?

Quell: Secrets.

- The Master, 2




Photograph of the Finnish cult leader Maria Åkerblom in custody of the Police Department of Helsinki.

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