Cults come in many types and sizes. This list includes cults ranging from South Pacific islanders who perform rituals with the goal of getting planes to drop off goods, to doomsday cults that planned to take over the world after the apocalypse — and managed to gain a frightening amount of power.
1. Heaven’s Gate was a cult whose members committed mass suicide in 1997 when Comet Hale-Bopp passed near the sun. They believed their souls would reach an alien spacecraft that was following the comet.
The alien craft was supposed to then take their souls to another “level of existence above human.” The group was founded in back 1974 by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles who met each other in a psychiatric hospital.
To commit suicide, 39 members took phenobarbital mixed with applesauce. They washed it down with vodka, and then put plastic bags over their heads so they would suffocate. All of them were dressed in matching black shirts with armband patches that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team,” as well as matching sweatpants and brand new Nike shoes. The cult’s website is still up and running.(source)
2. The John Frum cult is one of the most widely reported examples of a “cargo cult.” Cargo cults are typically groups that formed during or after WWII among islanders who benefited from the presence of soldiers who shared goods with them. They believe that by performing rituals that mimic the behavior of soldiers they saw on the island, they’ll receive more cargo.
The John Frum cult is made up of islanders on the South Pacific island of Tanna. Before soldiers arrived on the island, locals were unfamiliar with modern goods such as manufactured clothing, medicine, and canned food. The islanders had watched the soldiers receive cargo from planes from parachuted air drops. So, after soldiers left the island, the cults would perform rituals that mimicked the practices of soldiers in the belief that it would bring new cargo. Some of the practices include marching, waving landing signals, and creating mock airstrips, radios, and control towers.
The John Frum cult worships a figure named John Frum, often depicted an American WWII serviceman. The name John Frum may be a corruption of “John from” as in “John from America”. This cargo cult is still active and has become a tourist attraction.(1,2,3)
3. The Family International is a cult that was founded in 1968 by a former pastor who said he was God’s prophet. He formed a group with some very outlandish views about sexuality. For instance, it is known advocating incest with children, and members are told to imagine themselves having sex with Jesus.
The cult teaches a belief they call “Loving Jesus.” They believe their group is like Christ’s bride, and members should love him as a wife loves a husband. They are encouraged to imagine Jesus is joining them when they have sex or masturbate. Male members are cautioned to imagine themselves as women so that they avoid a homosexual relationship with Jesus.
The cult was originally named “Teens for Christ,” but it was later renamed “The Children of God” and is currently called “The Family International.” It has had some noteworthy members. For instance, Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan were born into the cult. According to their website, they have members in more than 80 countries.(1,2,3)
4. The Narcosatanists is the name the media gave to a cult of drug smugglers in Mexico. They performed human sacrifices with the belief it would protect them from police and even make them bulletproof.
This cult was led by a Cuban-American man named Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo. When Constanzo was a teenager living in Puerto Rico, he began practicing a religion called Palo Mayombe which involves animal sacrifice. He moved to Mexico City as an adult, gathered some followers, and started a successful business where they performed animal sacrifices to bring clients good luck. Many of his clients were drug dealers and hitmen.
In 1988, the Narcosatanists moved onto an isolated ranch in the desert where they managed a cocaine and marijuana smuggling operation. The group then started performing human sacrifices to cast spells they believed would protect them from police. Their victims included strangers and rival drug dealers.
Their crimes came to light after they abducted and murdered an American student who was in Mexico on Spring Break. When police raided the Narcosatanists’ ranch, they found the mutilated corpses of 15 people and a cauldron that contained a dead cat and a human brain.(1,2)
5. The Manson Family was Charles Manson’s group of hippie followers who carried out a grisly murder spree with the goal of inciting a race war. Manson believed the Beatles’ White Album was filled with coded messages that predicted a coming race war and told his followers that the album was actually directed at their group.
To incite a race war, the group brutally murdered White people with the hope the murders would be blamed on Black people. The Manson Family also planned to release an album of their own with hidden messages to help trigger the race war. Manson predicted there would be a split between racist and non-racist Whites which would allow Blacks to triumph. The Manson Family planned to go into hiding until the war was over and then would emerge to rule the Blacks.(1,2)