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What's the definition of a cult? All the types of cults and the sheer variety of these nefarious groups will shock you. Here are the most infamous.

What’s the definition of a cult? Step inside the weirdest organizations

What is the definition of a cult? Broadly, it is the formal devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work. This type of veneration can be applied broadly to any group of like minded people who share a common interest or obsession. Some may argue that fans of Star Trek or K-Pop are followers of a cult.

Destructive cults still exist. These cults often demand complete devotion to a central figure. Economic & sexual exploitation of cult members is generally the true purpose of these groups. Members are often looking for a place to belong as they may feel increasingly isolated by our constantly changing modern world.

Take a look at some of the strangest organizations that form the very definition of destructive cults.


NXIVM was a cult that started in upstate New York. Many young professionals joined the group looking for seminars in professional & personal development. Women who participated in NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs were recruited into a secret group called DOS. Members of DOS were branded and coerced into sexual slavery.

Keith Raniere, the founder of NXIVM, allegedly ran several multi-level marketing pyramid schemes in the 90s. Raniere created his Executive Success Program based on the works of Ayn Rand, L. Ron Hubbard, Tony Robbins, as well as a hodgepodge of Eastern religious philosophy.

The teachings of NVIXM fit the definition of a cult almost exactly. Raniere was the charismatic leader whose teachings were sacrosanct. Any deviation from his teachings or orders was criticized as a personal character flaw. Members were forced to have sex with Rainere and pay exorbitant amounts of money.

In 2018, Raniere was arrested & indicted on federal charges of sex trafficking. In 2020, a federal judge sentenced Raniere to 120 years in prison. It is suspected that Raniere might have been involved in several homicides. A number of his former partners died of mysterious circumstances, including suicide, poisoning, and sudden cancer.

The Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, often referred to as the Peoples Temple, was founded in 1954 by Reverend Jim Jones. The organization began by combining Christianity with elements of leftist political ideology.

Though the group’s teachings of charity, racial equality, and communal living don’t seem outwardly destructive, the Temple’s leadership truly was dangerous. Jones often preached that a nuclear holocaust was imminent. He preyed on Cold War-era fears to coerce people into giving large donations to his group.

On November 18, 1978, in a settlement in Guyana called Jonestown, 909 people died in a mass murder & suicide. Cult leader Jim Jones ordered his congregation to drink a cyanide-laced batch of grape Flavor Aid. It was the greatest deliberate loss of American civilian lives until the events of September 11th, 2001.

Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo, or as it is now known Aleph, is a Japanese doomsday cult that is notorious for carrying out deadly terrorist attacks. This group borrows a variety of ideas from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, as well as the predictions of Nostradamus. The group’s leader Shoko Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, claimed to have visions of the end of the world.

Asahara claimed that he would be able to take the sins of the world upon himself so that his followers may live forever. His followers began covertly manufacturing a dangerous VX gas and sarin, two dangerous nerve gases. Aum Shinrikyo members carried out a series of violent murders and terrorist attacks in the mid 90s.

On March 20, 1995, the group released sarin gas on the Tokyo Metro. This attack killed fourteen people and resulted in serious injuries to more than 5,000 people. Asahara was arrested along with several of the senior members of the cult.

Heaven’s Gate

For many, Heaven’s Gate is the very definition of a dangerous cult. The group was formed by Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite in the 1970s. The two believed that they were chosen to fulfill a number of biblical prophecies and usher in a new phase in human spirituality.

Many refused to take Heaven’s Gate seriously. This is fairly typical with cults, likely because their beliefs are seen as being so bizarre. However, many members of the cult believed so deeply that they surrendered their lives for it.

In 1997, under the direction of Applewhite, thirty-eight members of the cult committed suicide. They believed their souls would board an unidentified flying object and be lifted to a realm above human consciousness.

What do you think of these groups? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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