These guidelines will help people to recognize such scam artists when encountering them. Just about all cults include most or all of these elements.
Make a Promise that gets at something people really want and don’t have, such as community, wealth, happiness, sex, or freedom from anxiety or worry.
Explain that The Promise will be realized in a Transformation into a Higher State of Being or a Return to a Mythical Golden Age.
Create an Impending Calamity or Apocalypse (the End of the World has typically been the staple here) that can be avoided through membership in the group, achievement of The Promise, and possession of The Secret Knowledge. The supposed Secret Knowledge can be simply a mash-up of pop psychobabble or pseudoscience or political ideology or New Age nonsense or traditional religious ideas or some combination of these, augmented by Guided Apophenia–encouraging Disciples to perceive patterns in the world (in popular culture, for example) that aren’t really there, especially patterns involving the Adversary (see below).
Make use of Normalizing Disciples and their Testimonies.
Create and present, optionally in some Sacred Text, a Backstory of a Revelation of The Secret Knowledge or Hidden or Esoteric Teachings being communicated by A Messenger to The Great Leader (that would be you), who becomes the embodiment of The Secret Knowledge on Earth.
Create Stages of Development toward acquisition of The Secret Knowledge, aka, The Path, and Testimonials from Normalizing Disciples further along The Path toward Mastery of The Secret Knowledge. Name these stages, creating ranks within the group of Disciples. Charge people increasing amounts of money (and/or other services) for training to reach these ranks.
Create an Other–an Enemy or Adversary–that wishes to destroy the group, and include among these anyone from outside the group (e.g., friends or family members) who might attempt to get the Disciples from drinking the Kool-Aid. Isolate Disciples as much as possible from competing ideas and from the society at large.
Create community-binding Rituals involving Sacred Objects or Talismans, and Symbols or Icons, including both Bonding Rituals (to the leader and to other members of the group) and Private Rituals (to carry the activities of the cult into the disciple’s private life).
Build community and immunity within the cult by warning Disciples on The Path that exposure to the ideas of those outside the cult, such as other belief systems, can prevent acquisition of The Secret Knowledge and bring about The Calamity.
Engage group members in Proselytizing and Recruitment.
Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. This material may be shared if this notice is retained and the material is shared in unedited and complete form.
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