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We Need More Lerts!

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on September 4, 2012 | Comments (6)

Be alert.
We need more lerts!

<snark>Last week I had the honor of performing a civic service: jury duty. For the massive time of one day I was required by law to wait in a big room, doing nothing, hoping to be called to serve on a trial. I wasn’t, and I went home filled with feelings of civic pride and responsibility.</snark>

I brought with me a couple of books, and during the day I was able to start and finish an odd little self-published book entitled Cult Control: The Building of a Cult by Dantalion Jones. As I read it I was drawn to recall the saying above. I don’t know who came up with the saying first. I do remember the first time I heard it: I was living in Minnesota and my girlfriend, who had been a radio DJ in New Mexico, told me she had used it as part of a station identification announcement.

Yes, it was for a college radio station. I don’t think commercial stations would have sanctioned it.

But back to Cult Control. The book purports to tell you how to start your own cult.* Fortunately (or unfortunately, if that’s what you want to do) it only presents generalities that seem to be based on a couple of books on cults and concepts from NLP. Although it claims to be based on the secret teachings of “The Anonymous Brotherhood” which has “no website or contact information at this time but when you are ready, they shall appear,” I see no evidence to support that assertion. Filled with typos and even duplicated pages, the truth is you stand as much of a chance of starting a cult from just reading this book as J. Pierrepont Finch would have really had advancing in the corporate world using the limited information in his book of choice, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Why I Read This Book

Although I have been asked to form groups many times, I have no desire to start, take over, or join a cult. I even attended a workshop with my friend, Philip H. Farber, entitled “How to be a Megalomaniac,” which includes the secrets of how to manipulate the masses and gain followers and lackeys. One of the techniques Phil teaches, a method used by (tel)evangelists, involves manipulating energy so that people will collapse, “overcome by the Spirit.” I discovered that this simple technique works on some animals, as well as people.

But no, my goal is not to start or run a cult. Rather, it is to find out what cults do, how they operate, how they manipulate minds, etc., for two reasons: First, to be aware of the techniques myself (and not become victim of them), and second, to be able to share the techniques so that others won’t fall prey to the Fearless Leaders trying to control people.

I want to provide information that will help people
become alert to the techniques being used on them.
We need more lerts!

In my estimation, the material in the book is actually somewhat dated. It’s good as a historical record of what people were thinking of cults back in the last century, but we know much more now.

Still, I do not believe there are such things as “bad books.” The worst book you’ve ever read on a subject may have some kernels of value in it. It may be the only value of the book is to help you realize you know more than you think you do and more than the author has written.

This book did remind me of one of the most commonly used techniques of cult leaders. The author and I both refer to this as the creation of…

“The Enemy”

The idea is to build support for your cult by giving people some one or some thing or some group to unite against. This individual, group, or force is “The Enemy.” Cult leaders must frequently warn followers to be wary of “The Enemy.” Who is “The Enemy?” Where is “The Enemy?” The answers are easy: “The Enemy” is everyone outside of the cult. “The Enemy” is everywhere. “The Enemy” may even be disguised as your friend! Beware of “The Enemy!”

To be specific, “The Enemy” is:

  • Any person, even friends or family, who don’t follow the cult’s doctrines and beliefs.
  • Any person who doesn’t believe in the cult’s doctrines and beliefs 100%
  • Any doubts you may have about the cult.
  • Andy doubts you may have about the cult’s doctrines and beliefs.
  • Any doubts you have about the cult’s leader.
  • Any former members of the cult.

“You must fight with your obedience to [the cult’s] Doctrine. Only through Doctrine can you purge The Enemy.”

And what is this doctrine? It’s “whatever the Leader wishes to put forth…the wrong thought is most certainly a doubt of Doctrine or a doubt in the infallibility of the Leader.”

In a cult, the leader is always right. What the leader says is always true and must be agreed to by followers instantly and without question, even if it is the exact opposite of what the leader said before. You can often see such cults online. The leader will make a post and the lackeys will quickly follow defending the leader, believing the leader’s wildest claims, and even repeating the leader’s exact words.

It’s really quite necessary for a cult to have an enemy, even if one does not exist. Having an enemy helps build a uniting we-versus-them attitude among the cult members. It helps to make cult members feel special (“We are not like ‘The Enemy'”) and unified, so they will eagerly want to attack a perceived enemy even though “The Enemy” is fictional. A good way to promote this is to misinterpret what others say as attacks on the cult or the Leader. Sometimes, the Leader may make wild claims, such as “If you don’t send me money God is going to take me to heaven.” In this case “The Enemy” is the loss of the presence of the Leader. Similarly, a Leader may claim that he or she is either under personal attack (“I’ve been fighting against negative spiritual forces for you”) or may even make claims that death threats have been made against them. Naturally, they provide no proof of such threats.

How Cults Deal With…”The Enemy”

According to Jones, there are six primary ways cults should deal with “The Enemy”:

  1. Public denouncement. Today, this is most frequently done through internet postings and repostings, often by lackeys or “sock puppets” (the leader or a top supporter using different names). Part of this technique may include comparing the leader and the cult to mythic heroes and groups, while comparing “The Enemy” to traditional foes found within the myth.
  2. Rituals. Performing rites to supposedly control “The Enemy.”
  3. Attempting to get “The Enemy” to join the cult. For example, having meetings where everyone, even “The Enemy” is invited to participate, and then offering secret wisdom, spirituality, power, etc. if they join the cult.
  4. Using politics. For example, trying to get rules or laws passed that seem reasonable but are really just attempts to prevent any activity by “The Enemy.”
  5. Threatening or filing “legal suits against The Enemy.”
  6. Harassment of “The Enemy.” Recently, I’ve seen this with lackeys and sock puppets flooding websites with attacks on “The Enemy,” all of them endlessly repeating each other.

There is another way of dealing with “The Enemy” that Jones gives in a different location. This is when “The Enemy” is in the form of a follower who questions the Leader’s doctrine. This method is simply to accuse “The Enemy” of doing what the cult and the leader actually do. For example, if the Leader is constantly attacking others, and a follower questions this, the Leader turns this around and accuses the follower of attacking the cult! I believe that this also applies when “The Enemy” is not a cult member.

Be Alert

Magick has technological aspects and spiritual aspects. It’s possible for certain aspects of a cult to be technologically sound—they may present traditional rituals accurately—while being spiritually, ethically, and morally a cult. It’s quite possible for an individual or group to act in a cultic manner while strenuously claiming they’re not a cult. I’ve seen this with Wiccan and Witchcraft groups, with pseudo-skeptic groups, with religious groups, and with occult orders. Observe the way groups and their leaders behave toward outsiders—not just their words and claims. Are they reasonable or are are they exhibiting the above type of cult behaviors?

With the information presented here I hope you will be alert to what some groups, which are simply cults, are doing. So be alert because we need more lerts.

Or as they used to say on G.I. Joe:

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.



* Message to the technical purists: Yes, I’m aware that the term “cult” originally simply meant any religious sect and had no pejorative connotation. For example, early Christians were considered a cult. However, the term today has definitely negative meanings ranging from being a bad group to a dangerously evil group. It is in that sense I am using the term.

Reader Comments

Written By Samuel Scarborough
on September 4th, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Mr. Kraig,

This is one of the best blogs I have read in some time, especially in dealing with this particular topic.

The sad truth is that this sort of behavior can be found not only in the esoteric community (as you point out), but in nearly all aspects of life in general. Too bad that there are those throughout the esoteric community that seem to be infected with this cult like behavior.

The 6 points that you give from Jones’ book are very insightful in being on the lookout for this type of behavior. This list of six points along with the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (by the late Isaac Bonewits)should give any person a very good set of tools to be able to identify whether any group is a cult or not.

These along with plain old common sense go a long way to keeping a person safer and out of the clutches of people involved with cult like behavior.


Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on September 4th, 2012 @ 11:14 am

Thanks, Samuel. The Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame can be found at this LINK.

Written By Phaedra Bonewits
on September 4th, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

Don, I can’t believe you did a whole blog about cults without once mentioning the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame!

Isaac created the ABCDEF in response to the People’s Temple Jonestown tragedy back in 1978. It rates the behavior of any group on a sliding scale from very controlling to very loose. It was the first evaluation of cults/groups/whatever to rate them on psychological factors rather than on dogma or belief. It’s been used all around the world, even by governments. It might actually be his most lasting legacy.

You can find it in later editions of either his Real Magic or Margot Adler’s Drawing down the Moon, or on our website (in several languages, too) at http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html

It is also true (although to this day I regret that we neglected to get a screenshot) that he once googled “Isaac Bonewits + cults” and got 666 hits.

Written By Kyle
on September 4th, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

I’d like to second what Samuel said: this is really found all over in all parts of life.

Don alluded to religious groups doing this and, yes, mainstream religious groups do act cultish (and we often are less wary of them because they are “established”).

But even beyond that, there is a disturbing amount of mind control everywhere. One reason I’ve never described myself as anti-religious (many of us know lots of people who identify religion as the source of all evil) is that when mankind has shied away from religion, it has just replaced it with another ideology, or cult. Extreme examples are Naziism and Stalinism, which were not religious movement, but political ones, but which became to mirror many of religion’s worst excesses. Even less murderous ideologies can still demand total obedience. In the US today, politicians who stray from party line may not be murdered, but a scary cacophony of party loyalists can make life uncomfortable for them.

But we must all be aware of any time we are told to confront “The Enemy.” One thing I am horrified of is how humans can commit despicable atrocities against “The Enemy” that s/he would normally never do. But when we exclude “The Enemy” from the camp of people who deserve human rights, we not only can commit terrible acts against them, but (more frighteningly) we can do so with a clear conscience.

Look how half a century ago and earlier in the Jim Crow South a man could be honest, church going, and a family man, and then commit a lynching with a cheering mob and go back to his home without thinking anything had been wrong (many buildings and monuments to this day in the South are named after people who proudly and openly lynched). Or look at how in World War II in Axis-occupied lands, the “untermenschen” could be worked to death, put in camps, or just plain shot. Wartime rape has often been accepted (and even openly justified) as punishment against The Enemy, and when that pass has been given, people can do things with a clear conscience they might never have done otherwise.

So many people felt comfortable doing these disgraceful acts because the majority had joined “the cult” and society had sanctioned atrocities against “The Enemy.” Cults with mind control are bad enough, but when this mindset (“Unite against The Enemy!”) captures the soul of an entire society, dreadful things can happen.

It is best to remember that although we are always part of a unit, we can never and must never dispense with our own individual thinking and reason.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on September 4th, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

You can read about the talented Phaedra Bonewits HERE.

I certainly agree on the value of the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame, which is why I mentioned its value and linked to it in two previous posts, HERE and HERE.

The concept behind the Evaluation Frame is to very logically look at the actions and beliefs of a group or individual and place a set of qualities for each action or belief on a continuum. It’s a great way for looking at a potential for cultic activity from a very logical, “left brained,” deductive point of view.

The point of my post, triggered by the book I read, was to take a more “right brained” approach, one that uses more inductive reasoning. Instead of rating indicators on a continuum, it simply looks at types of behaviors and allows people to more intuitively approach the issue. It’s a different approach, one that didn’t require mentioning the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame. It gives a different paradigm for understanding these issues.

For people looking for a very logical, left-brained approach, I strongly recommend the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame. For people who want to use a more right-brained, intuitive approach, I suggest looking at the issues my blog described and basing decisions on those criteria. And for those who see to examine the question of cults from all sides, I suggest combining both approaches.


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